Business

Rubonia Community Center among Manatee County's 'surplus properties'

MANATEE -- Properties owned by Manatee County being considering for sale or lease include the site of the closed Rubonia Community Center and land bought for a Pride Park community center that was never built.

The presence of the Rubonia Community Center on a list of surplus properties prompted a protest from Manatee County Commissioner Charles B. Smith, who grew up in Rubonia, during a Manatee County Commission meeting earlier this week.

"Don't get ahead of the gun," he said of the possibility the center might be demolished and the land beneath it sold.

Smith asked County Administrator Ed Hunzeker to consider offering the property to the United Way or to children's services agencies instead.

"You're in a historic retirement community, (it's) the only facility where people can meet and have programs, so when we talk about 'viable,' give me a chance to raise money for one," said Smith of the mostly black community in north Manatee County.

In 2013, budget problems forced the center at 1309 72nd St. E. to close.

Since the building would require up to $180,000 in repairs before anyone could use it, Smith suggested the county fix it up first and then give or lease it to a reliable organization.

Hunzeker said he wouldn't recommend renovation until an "invitation to negotiate" attracted a potential

operator.

Also opposing sale: Morris Goff, who noted most homeowners in the Rubonia community live below the poverty level and the center constituted a central part of life for them.

"We're trying to keep it a part of Rubonia," he said. "Give us a chance to put in a proposal ... to try to get a program going in there."

A similar discussion took place over land the county acquired for $800,000 with proceeds from a now-disbanded community redevelopment district for a community center that was never built.

Cindy Cavallaro Day, a co-founder and director of development at the Visible Men Academy charter school for low-income boys, asked commissioners to think about the site's potential as a permanent school/community center.

"This is the greatest gift and a great tax benefit to our community," she said about land at Ninth Street and 63rd Avenue East.

Other properties Manatee County commissioners are pondering as candidates for sale or lease include Utility Department property at 66th Street West and Cortez Road; East Manatee's Bennett Park, where the county's first water park is expected to be built; and land near the Bradenton Area Convention Center as a hotel site.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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