AVON PARK – The quest to get a city art museum on the second floor of the Avon Park Community Center took a setback, but the idea hasn’t been totally wiped from the easel.
With a contingent of about 15 supporters, mostly with the Heartland Cultural Alliance, present at the regular meeting of the Avon Park Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) Board Monday, the city council - whose members make up the CRA - voted 2-2 not to add at the last-minute the proposed Peter Powell Roberts Museum of Art & Cultural Center item on the council agenda.
The Heartland Cultural Alliance, led by Fred Leavitt, president, is a state- and county-designated non-profit group authorized to collect and distribute funds to culturally-based, non-profit organizations in Highlands County.
The HCA had planned to convert the 3,000-square-feet second floor gallery with kitchen of the Avon Park Community Center into a place for artists to have temporary and permanent spots for works to be publicly shown. At the Avon Park City Council meeting Feb. 10, the city council voted 3-2 against moving forward in a contract for agreement to create the cultural center,
After the vote, Leavitt said the HCA discussed the result and decided to again seek the city’s help in the effort. During the CRA meeting, board members deemed the effort a “city project” and chose to move the item to the city council agenda. However, once that meeting convened, council members voted 2-2 against placing the item on the agenda - Councilmen Parke Sutherland and Terry Heston for and Mayor Sharon Schuler and Councilman Garrett Anderson against - killing the effort and the HCA contingency and supporters walked out. Deputy Mayor Brenda Giles was absent.
Speaking for the HCA at the CRA meeting, Pat Malone, chief executive officer with MDI Creative Inc. of Norcross, Ga., went to the CRA board with renderings, descriptions, funding requirements and economic impact forecasts. MDI Creative is a design and development company specializing in museum work in over 400 museums around the United States and he said no modifications would be done “until such time we have the money to do it.”
At the CRA meeting, speaking for the HCA, Malone asked the city for $35,000 and a $1-per-year lease for five years in exchange for approximately $188,000 in facility improvements. The board decided since a city financing question was being asked, it needed to be moved to the city agenda.
“We need to spend money to improve the community anyway; this gives us a swift kick in the southside to get it going,” Sutherland, a proponent of HCA’s plans, said at the meeting.
According to the HCA, Leavitt and Malone, the Roberts museum could create annual revenue of about $22,300 per year in its first three years and $152,300 beginning in the fourth year. As additional venues are brought in through the HCA, the city could make as much as about $109,600 per year and the HCA would get $308,400 in annual revenue to fund other art-related projects.
In addition, the HCA stated based on bus tours arranged for a new museum and a Tourist Development Council campaign, up to 5,000 new tourists would go to Avon Park in the museum’s first year.
Leavitt said Wednesday that the HCA and its projects are “county-wide” endeavors and while Lake Placid is known for its murals, Sebring for its Ridgewood Avenue arts scene and the Highlands Art League, and Avon Park doesn’t have any “growing arts community.
Leavitt, a retired freelance photographer, said although voting against placing the item on the council agenda was frustrating, it just temporarily halted the HCA’s effort. He said he and the HCA is seeking a final vote by the city council at its next regular meeting July 14.
“It’s either ‘yea’ or ‘nay’,” he said. “If ‘nay,’ we’ll go someplace else. I’d like to have this in Avon Park, but if there’s no community support in Avon Park, we’ll go our own way and they’ll go their’s,” he said.
Leavitt said original plans called to have the Powell museum open by the 2014 Christmas season but has since been pushed back three weeks.
Avon Park City Attorney Gerald Buhr said at the meeting that placing the item on the city agenda is legal but could lead to problems and warned that adding the item, though legal, might be challenged under Florida’s Sunshine Law, which guarantees the public has access to the public records of governmental bodies in Florida.
Sutherland, who has supported the HCA community center effort, said Wednesday that since the community center needs improvements anyway, it would benefit to let the HCA help out.
“It would help offset the costs for improvements. Hopefully, the Alliance will do a bit more homework and bring the issue back to council.”