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Commissioners questioning Manatee 'Dream Center'

MANATEE -- Some county commissioners Tuesday expressed reservations about plans for construction of a community center that could cost $1 million or more to build, and still lack money to operate programs there.

The proposed community center, known colloquially as the “Dream Center,” would be adjacent to Pride Park at 907 63rd Ave. E., where the South County Community Redevelopment Board purchased property for it last year.

A community center is crucial to the area, which has been plagued with crime and gangs, said John Mann, chairman of the CRA advisory board, in a telephone interview.

“We want to have a positive place for kids to go, so they can feel safe, and have every activity we can for them,” he said.

However, the financially draining effects of the recession have diminished income for community redevelopment, and has inspired doubts among some commissioners about the wisdom of building at this juncture.

Commission Chair Carol Whitmore said business owners in the area were disgruntled because the advisory board recently voted to spend $1 million or more to build the community center.

She cited the case of a business owner in the area who had been robbed three or four times during the past four months.

“Why isn’t the CRA protecting the businesses?” she asked.

Commissioner Robin DiSabatino said the advisory board “is very focused on the community center.”

“It’s up to us to determine if we want to go that route,” she said, noting that perhaps if more attention had been paid to businesses in the area and upon economic development, there would be less suffering now.

“I’m very aware we need more economic development,” she added.

“I say until the market turns around, we really can’t think of building it right now,” DiSabatino said.

Deputy County Attorney Maureen Sikora reminded the commission that the advisory board is just that -- advisory.

“You will have a final say,” she said.

Commissioners also control who sits on the board, and thus, “If you feel some members don’t have the same perspective as you do anymore, when their terms come up, they can be replaced with someone from the business community,” Sikora said.

Mann said that, if after a thorough search, no one volunteers to operate the center, the advisory board would recommend the money to build the community center remain in the bank.

The Manatee County Community Redevelopment Agency is a public entity created in 2002 for the purpose of revitalizing the county’s central neighborhoods and commercial corridor, according to the Manatee County website.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031.