PUNTA GORDA, Fla. — The Cooper Street Recreation Center in Punta Gorda could undergo some changes soon.
“This building was actually created as a response to Jim Crow practices of the city in the past," Jaha Cummings, the president of the center said.
It's a place where people have gathered since segregation. It was one of the only sites where those who use the center say Black people felt safe at that racially divided time.
Punta Gorda's city council says it considers the rec center's lease terminated. The city pays for power and water and is supposed to cover the cost of physical plant and building maintenance. Cooper Street Board has paid for internal renovations to include flooring and all the furnishings, and other utilities such as phone and internet.
The city owns and leases the land the cooper street rec center is on. City councilors are discussing how the land could be used better.
“The current leadership is not particularly welcoming of other groups, utilizing the facility," councilwoman Donna Peterman said.
Cummings insists it does serve the community value through college readiness programs, serving as a historic library, and a childcare center with an in house YMCA. The lease between the rec center and the city was originally until December 2025.
“Cooper street has the right to sublease, it’s a community and youth center," Cummings said.
Something council says is unclear and is not providing enough worth.
“I should be able to call there and they say, 'here are the different public services that we provide, childcare..' to whatever the other aspects are," vice mayor, Melissa Lockhart said.
Now the conversation is about moving current leadership out of the center and finding new tenants.
“In the event that the YMCA is not interested, perhaps we can contact the Boys and Girls club, they used to have an agreement to operate out of there as well," Mayor Lynne Matthews said.
People who use the facility believe it would not serve Punta Gorda well to allow the YMCA to take over the lease entirely or to pass it off to another organization.
"It would definitely do away with the strong African American heritage of this building," Cummings said.