There are more questions than answers at this point for future use of the Punta Gorda Library once the new facility on Shreve Street opens its doors.
Although the current facility is owned by Charlotte County, the City Council is interested in making some suggestions for use of the building.
“It is in a great location for all of the proposals we’ve seen,” said Punta Gorda Mayor Rachel Keesling. “A shared use would even be something that would be viable.”
The Punta Gorda Library will be relocating from its current location on W. Henry St. to the new facility in 2019 under the name the Punta Gorda Charlotte Library. There is nothing in the deed that restricts its future use, according to city documents.
As part of the discussion, city staff suggested that the City Council consider the status of groups currently using the Bayfront Center and Punta Gorda Boat Club, as well as a list of other groups, including:
- Punta Gorda Boat Club
- Punta Gorda Sailing Club
- Punta Gorda Sail and Power Squadron
- Charlotte County Woodcarvers Club
- YMCA of Charlotte County
- Learn2Sail Southwest Florida
- Peace River Radio Association
- Peace River Chapel
- Bayfront Dancers
- Exercise classes
In addition, city staff noted that there has been a suggestion that the library be transitioned into a Cultural Heritage Center.
Kelly Gaylord, Punta Gorda resident and a representative of the Punta Gorda Historic Mural Society, suggested the city recommend the building be used for the Charlotte County Historical Center Museum.
“We already have a good base here in town,” said Gaylord. “Two museums, our history park and our historic murals. Folks are looking for more. I often get asked what else is there to visit when I do mural tours. Using the current library building as our history museum would create a history campus being just a block away from the history park.”
Punta Gorda resident Gary Skillicorn suggested the city recommend the building be used for a new community center.
“I don’t think anyone can deny that the residents would benefit from a community center,” said Skillicorn, “For children, millennials, working residents and seniors. Wouldn’t the citizens of Punta Gorda benefit from a community center?”
Skillicorn referenced the popularity of community centers such as that used by the Punta Gorda Isles Civic Association.
“I saw what value that the PGICA brings but what about the rest of Punta Gorda. PGICA is a dynamic organization — 4,000 members, 40 clubs and groups. It’s a magnet for new residents and for those considering purchasing homes. Unfortunately, it is for PGI residents only. What about the other 14,000 residents of PG?”
The facility does present problems in regard to operations and maintenance of the building.
“I had (a conversation) recently with one of the (county) commissioners,” said Vice Mayor Gary Wein. “He feels the building’s problematic ... they would be responsible for the maintenance. Whoever does take over the usage of that building is going to be walking into an older building that probably needs some upgrades.”
The county has included the Punta Gorda Library facility in a facility use study to address the building’s condition, according to Keesling.
“I did talk to a county commissioner as well and what they did tell me is that they are doing a facility use study and that building will be in that study,” said Keesling. “So when that study comes out, it may or may not have a recommendation on whether or not they need the space for whatever county function already exists.”
Representatives of the county were not available for comment at the time of this report. The City Council directed staff to move forward with the suggestions for the building’s future use. It is up to the county to decide the facility’s fate.
In regards to funding for the building’s potential future purpose, Skillicorn said, “The PGICA, Boat Club and Bayfront Center all operate without city funding through donations, membership fees and rentals. There is no reason why a similar arrangement cannot be established (for a community center).”
Keesling expressed concern for what the county would want in exchange for the city’s use of the building and how it would work moving forward.
“If I were the county and the city wanted use of the building,” said Keesling, “they are going to want some sort of monetary deal with the city. I don’t know that they would just give it to us. If they would, that would be great.”
If the city is allowed to oversee the building, Keesling said they would have to appoint a financially stable group to manage the facility.
“Like with all of our other facilities,” said Keesling, “we would need a head group. That’s where we’ve had good luck and bad luck (in the past). It’s always a slippery slope when you take on a facility like that and you expect somebody to manage. I like all these (suggested) uses, but interest in trying to take it over from the county or work with the county, I think that’s really where we are at now. How involved is the city going to be in that?”