How to pay for a Longboat community center
Editor & Publisher
On its face it seems a perfect match: Longboat Key and a Community Center. After all, Longboat Key is defined by the intelligence, means and vitality of its residents.
We also have the perfect setting in the expanded Bayfront Park site. We have the perfect advocate — Mayor Jim Brown — who I believe wants to leave a smart and useful legacy. I believe he and those behind the idea of a Community Center see an opportunity, have a vision that has gelled over the years and want to make it work.
History bolsters the case: the Education Center has been a resounding success and Susan Goldfarb, the director, ought be applauded for putting together imaginative and smart programs for more than a decade.
And the Art Center has brought the experience and activity of fine art to our Key in a way that separates us from most any other community our size.
In fact, these two intuitions alone could help a potential home buyer say, “Not only is Longboat beautiful, but we can undertake activities we truly love or more importantly — nurture sides of ourselves we ignored or did not have time for during the working and family years.”
And that, if nothing else, makes these institutions as precious as our parks and shorelines. In fact, anything that has the power to add meaning or transform ourselves through education or art is on one level is the divine working through our minds and hands. That is how strongly I feel about art and education at whatever age. In fact, William Blake insisted that God on one hand is the creative imagination working through humans and Satan anything that destroys that impulse.
But idea and reality have repeatedly failed each other when it comes to making a community center happen on Longboat Key. It seems that the cost issue and burden on taxpayers coupled with fears that it could impact the other institutions has kept the Community Center more of a recurring dream than anything else.
But this year something has changed, and those who see the idea of a community center as a positive should be a drop more optimistic. That is because instead of the advocates thinking about how to position or “sell” the idea to taxpayers, they are truly seeing private funding — at least for the building — as an appropriate and viable way to make the center a success.
If the Commission and the Community Center advocates can take the professional plans, the programming that could occur and start to talk to the community itself, I believe support will be found.
A private donation from James Durante was used to build Joan M. Durante Park. And I remember Jim affectionately: his brash wit, his never failing smile and enthusiasm and his strong legal mind. And I remember sitting with Jim dozens of times at Spike n’ Tees as we talked about his career in New York, crazy local politics and his long hand-scrawled legal columns. But one topic always came up: the love of his life — Joan. And he missed his wife. You could see that moisture mixed with love in his eyes when he talked about all the things they did through their years before she passed.
And not to diminish his love or to sound trite, his love of Longboat Key was a close second. In fact, Jim cared and argued passionately on many issues and his booming voice still can be conjured and enjoyed by those lucky enough to know the man.
So Jim found a way to marry his two loves in donating about $6.5 million to build the Joan M. Durante Community Park.
And his wife loved flowers and beautiful walks. So guess what Jim ensured would be at the park?
And while not everyone can or should follow in those steps, it was for me — then a young reporter on the Key — an object lesson in exactly the kind of giving that makes a community a better place.
So I believe if James Durante could find a way to express what was most important through that raw acreage, I believe other Longboaters could find very meaningful ways to help build this center.
This center will be the Jewel of the Key if it is built in this way. It will be our ode to the imagination and ultimately the place we all enjoy, our home — Longboat key.
The seeds of a community center
Perhaps the best action our Commission can take on behalf of getting the Community Center jump-started is to rethink the $3 million Key Club commitment if the development order is approved for Islandside.
In other words, the Town Commission when it approved the Key Club redevelopment proposal received a commitment from the Key Club for $3 million as compensation for the loss of open and community recreational space. In other words, the Town granted numerous departures and granted density and housing units, which was at their discretion. Those housing units were also part of the entire planned development meaning the Town conferred density that all of the existing condominiums and single family homes had as much right to request as the Key Club.
But the Key Club had a compelling proposal and the Town conferred additional density which is now lost for the other owners to request. That is part of the justification for the $3 million to be paid to the Town along with the loss of the driving range and golf course space.
But the fact is the Key Club will pay that money out as each unit’s certificate of occupancy is issued. The phasing of the project puts that at up to eight years and the money will trickle into the Town sale-by-sale, unit-by-unit.
So here is another way to handle this and get the community center private fundraising effort underway.
If the Town loses its second appeal of the Key Club case (which is fairly likely), the Key Club will reapply for the development order anew under the revised and zoning and land use codes that the town changed specifically with the aim of making the Key Club’s application legal and conforming to Town Code.
It is at that time this Commission should consider negotiating that the $3 million be paid after all appeals of an approved development order are exhausted, not trickled in over eight years.
If the Key Club cries that the Town is holding it hostage or making an unconscionable extraction the Town could do one of two things:
• Negotiate the $3 million to be paid over eight years to a present day dollar amount.
• Reconsider whether the departures and density allotted without a meaningful compensation for the loss of open and recreation space is an unconscionable extraction from our community.
Remember, the Key Club is managed and owned by New York’s Loeb Partner’s Realty. New York real estate investment firms are like the New York Yankees. You do show up in the Bronx with your Hawaiian Shirt and wiffle ball bat. We need our Commission to play real baseball, bring their game faces and win something both for the Key Club, but more importantly — for our community. This can be negotiated and done.