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Historic Cooper Street Rec Center at risk of closing

Posted at 10:48 PM, Aug 22, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-22 22:52:02-04

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. — The Cooper Street Recreation Center in Punta Gorda has an uncertain future. The city owns the land it sits on and now Punta Gorda's city council is choosing the best way to utilize the space.

Supporters say this rec center is not just a want, but a need for that community.

In a council meeting on August 9, councilors spoke about the city's right to terminate the leases it owns.

It's stirring up emotions for some because of what the building signifies.

Jaha Cummings is a former city council member. He said the Cooper Street Recreation Center is so crucial, in the present and the past, as it served as a safe gathering space for African-Americans during the Jim Crow era.

"Cooper Street was the first place in Charlotte County that actually had congregate meals for seniors," Cummings said.

After the building serving the community for 5 generations, it's at risk of closing. The center's leaders were recently served the following document from the city.

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"All of a sudden, out of nowhere... we had the meeting two council meetings ago, where there was a move to try to actually void the lease," Cummings said.

In that meeting, a list the city's attorney wrote was read aloud, listing a few factors to be considered for properties with city-leased land. Those points follow:

  • Does the lease recognize the absolute right to terminate the lease if the city council determines that the intended public use is no longer being accomplished?
  • Is the intended public use no longer needed?
  • Does the city desire to use the property for another public purpose, deemed to be more important than the first?

Cummings said the center serves as a place for seniors to connect with others. Children receive daycare services through a partnership with the YMCA. He says it's something the city is better off finding a way to keep, as it bridges generations.
"For there to be now a question over whether or not the center is actually of public benefit is very puzzling to a lot of people in the community," he said.

The city council will talk about this further during its meeting on August 23.