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The lease for nonprofit New Operation Cooper Street will be revised to bring it into compliance with state statutes, Punta Gorda City Manager Greg Murray said during a Wednesday City Council meeting. He also took the opportunity to dispel any misunderstandings arising from an October workshop. 

“The requirements the state specifies are not in all of [the city’s] leases, including New Operation Cooper Street, and we can either bring that into compliance or close the doors,” Murray said. “The Council has no authority whatsoever to disband the New Operation Cooper Street board or any other board that’s developed independently, so saying the Council wants to disband that board is actually very inaccurate.” 

Several members of the community and nonprofit organizations addressed Council, voicing their support for the recreation center at 650 Mary St., which has provided the community child care, after-school activities, mentoring programs for high school graduates and senior services. 

During a recent review of the city’s lease agreements with Peace River Wildlife Center, Punta Gorda Boat Club and New Operation Cooper Street, which operate on city-owned land, the city sought to rewrite their leases to ensure they comply with state statutes. Leases with the wildlife center and boat club already were reviewed. 

Murray said he met with New Operation Cooper Street’s former board president, the late Dr. David Klein shortly before he died in late August, and then current President Jaha Cummings. 

Murray said he requested information on the programs available at the rec center, a presentation on its operations and financial statements. 

“Right now, it’s a conversation,” he said. 

Among those speaking in support of the rec center was consultant Patti Guerzo, of the Small Business Development Center, which has an office at New Operation Cooper Street. The local chapter of the development center is run out of Florida Gulf Coast University and serves those from Collier County north to Charlotte County seeking to start or sell a business. It offers free consultations on marketing, hiring, planning and financial management. 

Guerzo said in the past year the SBDC has helped start nine local businesses and there are 10 consultants at the area’s SBDC. 

Connie Payne, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, said New Operation Cooper Street has the full support of her organization. 

“It took a community to make it start, and it will take a community to make the rec center continue to thrive,” Payne said. 

Florida APEX Accelerator at FGCU, which has centers across the state that provide small and large for-profit businesses assistance with research and bidding on government contracts, has an office at New Operation Cooper Street. Government contracting consultant Mark Odell said his organization has helped businesses win $171 million in government contracts. 

Murray said it wasn’t clear when New Operation Cooper Street’s revised lease will make it onto the agenda. 

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