Manatee Boys & Girls Club's original site in Bradenton could close at end of August

vmannix@bradenton.comMay 25, 2013 

BRADENTON -- The marquee at 1405 Ninth St. W. is weathered and worn.

So is the main building decorated with paintings of butterflies.

The Boys & Girls Club of Manatee County's Bradenton Club has existed for more than 60 years, established in 1951 by Bradenton Kiwanis.

"The mother club," said senior probation officer Shed Stephens, a former member, referring to the oldest of the organization's seven sites.

Though it is still alive with the voices of children at an after-school program, the building's days are num

bered.

The Boys & Girls Club board of directors has not signed off on it yet, but the Ninth Street site could be closed by the end of August, according to a club official.

"The facility is tired and our kids need the best," said Carl Weeks, the organization's retiring president. "The board did an assessment on upgrading the building but determined renovation would not be cost-effective."

The 27-member board met Thursday but did not reach an agreement.

Board chairman Michael Moschello could not be reached for comment.

If the Ninth Street club is closed, the staff and membership -- almost 150 now, 200 during summer -- would go to other clubs, according to Weeks.

"The kids will have the opportunity to attend a Boys & Girls Club program at DeSoto or Palmetto or a couple of local school sites," he said. "We want them to continue to do that."

What would happen to the city-owned property is unknown.

With the renovation and expansion of neighboring McKechnie Field, adding parking space is one possibility.

Pittsburgh Pirates officials were not available for comment.

Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston was noncommittal.

"We have to wait to see what the Boys & Girls Club decides before we do anything," he said. "We've got our public works building right next door to consider, too."

The Ninth Street club has been a second home for generations of Bradenton youths who played sports, shot pool, made arts and crafts or played ping pong with Pirates legends like Willie Stargell and Doc Ellis.

There's a brick there somewhere signed by Olympic icon Jesse Owens, too.

"I made friends who are still close to me today," Dr. Joe Ganey said. "I've got a lot of great memories there."

So do others, who anticipate the building's inevitable closing.

"It's old, it's tired and they need to do something to provide the best options for those kids," said businessman Hugh Miller, a Boys & Girls Club foundation board member.

Bill Evers, who hitchhiked to the Ninth Street club from Cortez in the 1950s, said you can't stop progress.

"It probably costs more than it's worth to repair and they need to go someplace else," the former Bradenton mayor said. "I hate it, but sometimes you have to do these things."

Those words resonated with Shed Stephens, who nurtured his love of baseball on the club's dusty diamond.

"You'll see people come back and reminisce about things we used to do there," he said. "It had an impact on you and you never thought you'd see the day the mother club would be done away with, but times have changed."

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix.

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