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Punta Gorda wants busier, better future for historic Cooper Rec Center

Cooper Rec Center groups must now bid for the chance to stay put inside facility that was a gathering place for African Americans a century ago.
Cooper Street Rec Center
Posted at 9:22 PM, Jan 03, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-03 21:28:15-05

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. — The city of Punta Gorda has been trying to decide what to do with the Cooper Street Recreation Center for months.

The facility dates all the way back to the Jim Crow Era and served as a place for African Americans to meet and find fellowship during that time. Now the question is, what should it be used for, in the future?

Wednesday January 3, city councilors began discussing what's next for this historic building and how much future tenants might pay to use it.

"What they're going to do now is actually put an RFP [request for proposal] out for non-profits to apply. We'll go ahead and apply for that," the current center's president, Jaha Cummings, said.

Today, the Cooper Rec Center is used as a place for seniors to socialize, and for children to find daycare through the YMCA. Cummings says the center has programming coming up for people leaving the foster care system to integrate into the workforce.

However, the center sits on land that is leased by the city, which pays about $3,000/month for the building's operation. In comparison, city leaders have historically charged just $1.00/month for the property.

Leaders agreed there was no immediate urgency to make a decision on how much the space will cost because it's providing the current tenants 6 months to remain inside. In that time non-profits who want to use the space can apply.

However, Cummings and the center's board can remain the lessee if it's selected in the city's process and can prove the public good it serves.

Cummings is thankful for the 6 month extension because prior conversations pointed to a more hasty eviction.

"This is good because after all of this, it gives us at least 6 clear months to provide services to the community," Cummings said.