PUNTA GORDA — With a passion for the city of Punta Gorda, its residents and its businesses, Burnt Store Meadows resident Melissa Lockhart has decided to run for the District 5 City Council seat this November.
Lockhart, 45, will officially announce her campaign later today at 6 p.m. on the steps of City Hall, 326 W. Marion Ave.
The District 5 seat is currently held by Nancy Prafke, who has maintained the role since being voted in for her first term in 2013.
Prafke has opted not to run for re-election this fall, something that Lockhart told The Daily Sun was part of her motivation.
Lockhart has been a city resident since 2000, specifically in District 5 since 2003. District 5 consists of parts of Burnt Store Isles, Burnt Store Meadows and the Jones Loop area, among other more southerly regions within the city limits.
She has been active in the community, including starting the business Helping Hands SWFL in 2008, co-owning the business Native Sun Pools — started in 2014 — and serving on both the BSI and now BSM home association boards.
Lockhart recently emailed The Daily Sun to announce her campaign.
What separates you from other potential candidates?
I believe that a successful City Council should have different views and opinions but share a love of the city. I am dedicated to the city and my district. I also bring with me a small business owner mentality that I believe will help to be a voice for the business community.
How does your experience prepare you for this role?
Owning a business for 13 years, you have to be a leader who is motivated and committed. My business Helping Hands SWFL is a private-duty (skilled care like nursing or therapy services) senior home care company. Just by the nature of this business, we are helping our seniors in this great community each day.
I believe my years of experience in listening to the needs of clients, problem solving and leading, and involvement in the community is preparation for becoming a City Council member.
How do you feel about business versus residential development in the downtown area?
With the size of Punta Gorda, I believe we are in a great position to offer downtown as a business hub. Between our beautiful bike paths and sidewalks, accessing downtown from residential areas is easier than in some communities.
We currently have some residential options in the downtown area but, aesthetically, I would like to see business development continue downtown.
There has been a lot of focus on future development, such as the issue of downtown building heights, while maintaining the city’s hometown charm. Do you think the city is on the right track for establishing its vision for the future?
In regard to building height, I am seeing a lot of the city asking input from the residents along with council members and staff. This undertaking will take time in order to make sure we achieve the best look for our beautiful city.
I am in favor of business development. With the influx of citizens moving to our great city every day, I look forward to promoting more small businesses in order to help our commercial base.
Over the summer and into fall 2020, the City Council received a lot of attention about the face-covering rule they put in place. Do you agree or disagree with that stance?
With so many unknowns at the time and businesses asking the city for support with a mask mandate, if I were on the City Council at that time I would have also voted for the mandate. I do believe that the council members were in a no-win situation as the mask mandate divided a lot of residents.
The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 data shows that around 54.1% of the city’s almost 20,400 residents were listed as 65 years of age or older. What can Punta Gorda do to bring younger families and residents to the area?
I have been around since 2000 and have seen the demographics of Punta Gorda change over the years. I feel we are seeing more younger families moving to this great city. The more that Punta Gorda can offer in regard to business opportunities and amenities, the more this town will have a great mix of all ages.
How would you approach improving and even expediting efforts to add more affordable housing to the area?
Affordable housing is something that we need in order to continue to promote more business development — I see these two issues are very much connected.
With my own business, I have experienced trying to find new employees that want to work in this area but can’t find affordable housing, especially in the current market. I would be in favor of helping the efforts to bring affordable housing to our community.