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After solicitating bids from several nonprofit organizations to run New Operation Cooper Street Recreation Center, Punta Gorda City Council voted 3-1 April 17, choosing YMCA of Southwest Florida. 

The Council meeting was packed with residents, many of whom opposed the decision and spoke during the public portion of the meeting. 

In the end, the decision to award the YMCA the bid was made based on the city’s procurement policies.  

There were two sets of proposals sent out. In the first, all three were rejected as they did not meet criteria, according to the city’s Procurement department, which stated “all were rejected due to missing material package components.” 

An invitation to negotiate was sent out for a pre-submittal meeting March 1, but no one showed up, city Procurement Manager Anne Heinan said. 

A second solicitation was sent out, and three packages were received, but one was disqualified due to lacking requirements, including proof of nonprofit status, and the other withdrew, leaving the YMCA submission. 

Last year the city revised the lease for the rec center to bring it into compliance with state statutes after deficiencies were discovered. 

The center’s board was given a six-month interim lease, which expires in June. 

The city had a long-term lease with New Operation Cooper Street that paid the city $1 annually for use of the building. 

Deciding the rec center needed more leadership and organization, Council directed the procurement department to request proposals from nonprofit organizations to take over managing the center. 

Council member Donna Peterson recused herself from the vote, as she served on the local YMCA board in the past. 

Council member Debi Lux voted against choosing a candidate now, saying a local community group should be given more time to obtain its nonprofit status and gather the required paperwork it didn’t have at the submittal. 

Last year, the city reviewed leases with organizations that either owned buildings on city-owned land or leased a building owned by the city. New Operation Cooper Street was among them, along with the Punta Gorda Boat Club and Peace River Wildlife Center. 

More than a dozen residents urged city council members to choose a local community group to run the facility.  

Several submitted proposals, including Community United Services Inc., or CUSI.  

Its secretary, Graciela Nurse-Carthy, urged Council to reconsider the award to the YMCA. 

She said giving the YMCA the lease would further divide the community and deny the many services CUSI is and will offer to the community. 

Cost also was a factor. Residents who spoke feared the YMCA’s charges for services would not be affordable for many residents. 

Connie Payne, president of the NAACP of Charlotte County, provided a history of the center, saying it has been in operation since 1961 and has been a vital source of support for the people of the neighborhood for 62 years. 

“The center isn’t just a building to us, it is a cornerstone of this neighborhood,” Payne said. 

In addition to the child care program run by the YMCA in recent years, there have been veterans’ services, children’s tutoring help and adult education classes. 

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