A community center?

Contributing Columnist

One of the questions I am most asked is how I seem to keep up with what is happening on Longboat Key since I don’t live there anymore.

It is a very good question, and when I hear from two of my readers that they have been told by friends that they are not comfortable with showing any favor to the contender for the Town Commission, Ray Rajewski, because they might suffer some consequences, I do feel that I do no longer know the town.

However, before I sign off for good, there is one issue on the front burner that was subject of great debate in my time: whether the town needs a community center.

With the additional land, the two problems that taxed the old group are gone. There will be enough space and enough parking.

The one big ‘problem’ that seems to have center stage wasn’t a problem then and certainly is not a problem now. That is the cost of the construction. Longboat Key has a huge tax base and if the need for a center is there, no one should hesitate to vote for it. Whatever portion of the cost descends on the taxpayer would be minimal and, if the center was a success, a good investment.

What hasn’t been discussed enough is the question of need. In short, if they build it, will people come?

In the earlier discussion, the drive was led by a group who used the old center as a workout room and found it inadequate. Does this group still exist and do they still feel a gym with all of the equipment would satisfy an existing need?

On another level, there is the intellectual side of the equation. Would a lecture hall be utilized? If the Sills lectures were piped in, are there enough residents who would take advantage or it? Would the Town Commission agree to add a fulltime staffer to find other venues that would make living on the key a special place? I am thinking of author’s luncheons, small musical groups and possibly the overflow of popular lectures that are always sold out at the Education Center.

The proponents of the project would help themselves enormously if they can build a constituency in advance. On the construction side, in today’s economic climate, there would be many contractors who would bid on the job, bringing the cost down to a figure that could never be achieved in the future. Holding off makes no sense if it is needed. This would be the time.

It is up to those who are in favor to demonstrate the need. You don’t need another park to continue to bleed money and is largely unused, but a thriving community center could be the real charge to elevate the town. It is the answer to that question that goes far beyond my expertise. Only the people on the ground can know the answer.

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