HOLMES BEACH — Commissioners agreed to help financially support The Center of Anna Maria Island, but the amount wasn’t quite what the nonprofit and its supporters were hoping for.
After much discussion, questions and passionate arguments on both sides, commissioners agreed to donate $10,000 to the Center and to leave the door open to donate more to the nonprofit in the future.
Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson was among those disappointed by the amount.
Johnson said he budgeted $45,000 to donate to the Center for the current fiscal year and argued that commissioners should release the entire amount to the nonprofit.
“I think it’s time for this city to support the community center,” he said.
Commissioner Judy Titsworth agreed.
“I think it’s time to move on and show we’re all in for the community,” she said.
Commissioners Marvin Grossman, Jean Peelen and Carol Soustek had a different opinion.
“I’m not for handing you the money,” Soustek said to Center Executive Director Kristen Lessig. “My residents aren’t happy.”
Grossman said the back and forth between commissioners, Center leaders and the community during the meeting left him feeling “badgered.”
“I think at this time I couldn’t vote for more than $5,000 to 10,000,” he said. “I have to go with what the community wants.”
Community members took to the podium during public comment to speak for and against funding the organization.
“I think people are a little skeptical about the Center, not the community center,” Holmes Beach resident Nancy Deal said. “The ‘community’ is out of it, I guess.”
She questioned how the nonprofit operates.
“There’s a lack of trust in this community center,” Deal said.
Center board member and local restauranteur Ed Chiles asked commissioners to look beyond the nonprofit’s past to the future.
“To have a healthy community, you need healthy community organizations,” he said. “The Center needs your support.”
Center board Chair Bill Shuman also spoke in favor of funding the Center.
“We do struggle,” he said. “We struggle for your support.”
Bradenton resident and Center member Robert Ball said the nonprofit helped his family find a sense of community after relocating to the area. “It’s a big deal to have a place for my wife and kids to feel safe.”
Holmes Beach resident Jim Kihm said he was concerned with the Center’s financial reports, management practices and using “public money to support the Center” because of its fitness center.
Center Treasurer Jim Froeschle said he’s tired of the negativity often associated with the nonprofit.
“It time to quit throwing rumors around,” he said.
Froeschle added the organization’s fitness center was expanded at the request of members and with the help of then-board members. None of the Center’s funds were used in the expansion.
Not a good fit
Local business owner Jen Crady of AMI Fitness also addressed commissioners, citing issues with the Center’s fitness center damaging her business with its day pass program.
For $10 per day anyone can purchase a day pass to the Center, including vacationers, which Crady said make up 80 percent of her business.
According to Crady, the vacationers using the Center’s fitness facilities instead of her gym is having a significant negative impact on her business.
“It’s killing us,” she said.
Crady said she supports the Center and believes it should have a fitness center, but tapping into the short-term rental market was “unfair.”
While Center leadership maintains there is no formal vacation rental program or agreements for use of the fitness center, two Island realty companies, Sato Real Estate and AMI Accommodations, have an informal agreement with the nonprofit. Vacationers staying at properties managed by the two companies are allowed to go to the Center to use its facilities. The management companies are invoiced for each use at the $10 daily rate.
In an April 26 e-mail, Lessig said the amount of day passes sold is negligible, with $6,800 paid by the two rental companies since the beginning of the fiscal year in July.
“The renters generate little income,” Froeschle said.
Titsworth asked Froeschle and Lessig if the nonprofit would be willing to give up the revenue from the rental industry in exchange for a commitment of more money from the city. “That’s the biggest objection we get from the community, that you’re taking business away from the local gyms,” she said.
Lessig said because there’s no formal agreement with the rental agencies, going to them and asking passes for the two Island gyms be included in their offerings to renters or passes for the Center be discontinued was out of the question. “I cannot tell someone how to run their business,” she said.
Froeschle said he would be uncomfortable shutting off one of the Center’s revenue streams due to a projected year end loss of more than $200,000 for the nonprofit. As of March 31, the Center reported a $190,000 loss for the year, ending June 30, due to less support from local governments and lower payouts from fundraisers coupled with high overhead costs. At the end of March the fitness center had generated $74,500 in income with $100,500 in direct and indirect expenses, leaving the program operating at a loss.
Center supporters and staff gathered at the meeting left city hall before the vote, uttering comments including “disgusting,” “despicable,” and “you should be ashamed of yourselves,” directed at commissioners.
“I’m really disappointed the commission won’t support the community center,” Titsworth said before the vote, which passed unanimously.
Commissioners agreed to consider additional future funding for the Center, possibly targeted toward support of youth programs, if presented with a plan from the nonprofit.