PUNTA GORDA — Funding major fix-ups at the A.C. Freeman House in Punta Gorda recently left some city officials wondering if the historic home was worth saving.
Currently, city staff estimates the cost to rehabilitate and restore the house, built in 1903, at around $1.1 million.
“If it wasn’t worth preserving five years ago, seven years ago, 10 years ago, why now is there a big push to do this,” said Vice Mayor Debby Carey at a recent City Council meeting.
“The decision was made by prior City Councils as far as I can see,” she added. “If you decide to cut maintenance of a historic building and allow it to go to ruin, you’ve made the decision.”
The historic A.C. Freeman House was added to the National Register of Historic Places in the late 1980s.
The city was donated the house soon after Hurricane Charley in 2004.
In 2006, they moved the structure to its current location at 311 West Retta Esplanade, and renovated the foundation, roof and heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.
Around then, it was leased to the Charlotte County Chamber of Commerce for office space.
That lease was put on hold in June 2020 because the house was experiencing multiple system failures.
“A water heater that ruptured, plumbing that ruptured, a roof leak and HVAC system leak,” city senior project manager Julie Ryan said. “Instead of repairing minor things, we knew the building needed to have a more comprehensive overview.”
The current estimated cost for the project is around $1.1 million, but will likely be going up, according to City Manager Greg Murray.
“The $1.1 million I don’t believe is going to touch it,” Murray said. “I think we are going to be north of that what with the building costs currently.”
The city has applied for a 50/50 matching grant from the state, but even if that gets approved sometime in summer 2022, the city will still have to come up half of the current estimated cost.
City staff are also looking for other grants that could support the project.
Punta Gorda History Center President Gene Murtha told the City Council that the “million dollars would be money well spent.”
“If a city or county doesn’t really recognize and honor its history then it really just becomes a plain old village or city,” Murtha said. “History really speaks to who you are.”
He went on to say that there are many historical groups who would likely form partnerships to help raise funds to support with the ongoing costs.
City Council member Mark Kuharski said he thought Murtha’s suggestion for fundraising efforts could help “make up for whatever is a part of a (funding) gap.”
Ultimately, the council agreed to let city staff move forward on the current recommended repairs and additions to the home.
Recommendations also included repairs to a back stairwell, installation of proper fire and building security systems and adding a new restroom structure on the property.
Currently, the house has only one restroom upstairs that has also fallen into disrepair.
Should all the upgrades get completed, the city hopes to use the second floor to lease office space and the first floor as rentable event space.
“We just have to find the money,” Mayor Lynne Matthews said. “That’s the problem.”