Palm Coast wants to be known for its community focus and elegance. But one of its most important community amenities–its lone community center–is old, leaky, and not as visible as the city administration would like it to be. The community center at Clubhouse Drive and Palm Coast Parkway was built in 1975, when the county population was around 10,000. The building hasn’t changed since, though the city’s population has grown seven-fold, and some 35,000 people used the center over the past year.
On Tuesday, the administration unveiled a conceptual plan to rebuild the community center that would potentially more than triple its current 5,800 square feet (to close to 20,000 square feet), starting with a $430,000 design in 2014 (the city spent $50,000 this year to produce a conceptual plan). The plan seeks to maintain as many trees as possible, to preserve the existing building “footprint” as a basis for additional construction and improvements, and to make the community center more visible from Palm Coast Parkway: the city wants to spotlight its identity.
The eventual cost of the project or the timeline of actual construction past the design phase isn’t precise at the moment. Nor is the administration recommending that the council approve any dollars just yet. City projections include just $650,000 for the community center in 2015 as part of the five-year capital improvement plan. The city expects to use other sources of money to complete the project, including park impact fee revenue, a grant from the county’s Tourist Development Council, and private funding, including a relatively large contribution from the Palm Coast Bridge Club: the 300-member club, one of the most frequent users of the community center, is ready to write a $250,000 check to the city.
Council members Bill Lewis and Bill McGuire were under the impression that the impetus for expansion was led by the bridge club, and its willingness to foot part of the bill. City Manager Jim Landon appeared uncomfortable with that conclusion, saying expansion plans pre-date bridge club needs–or willingness to contribute. “We’re talking about a rental agreement with them,” City Manager Jim Landon said, with ongoing rental fees even if the bridge club were to provide a big check.
Even without the bridge club, Mayor Jon Netts said there is enough need in the community for extra space to warrant the first phase of the project, which would expand the center from 5,800 square feet to about 13,600 square feet. “That’s not the linchpin for the project in my mind,” Netts said of the bridge club’s involvement, or willingness to contribute. “The project stands on its own two feet. Otherwise you don’t do it.”
“The project is great, but we just but off a city hall,” McGuire said, insisting on the partnership the bridge club is willing to enact, with dollars in play.
“If the bridge club went away tomorrow, we still need to bring that building into ADA compliance” and improve it, Netts said.
Council member Dave Ferguson wondered “whether the city should invest in a facility where the city can accommodate large groups that we cannot accommodate now,” making possible events drawing 200 people or so.
“From staff viewpoint, yes,” Parks and Recreation Director Luanne Santangelo said. “It is really disheartening when people call and they want that larger space, and we can’t offer it to them.” The community center has some competition for pace elsewhere, Santangelo said, but the city can offer better rates and good customer service.
“There is a number, and right now it’s too low. But we really do not know,” Landon said. When pressed, he calculated–based on $200 a square foot–that the expansion would run to “$3 to $4 million.”
The city last month approved a plan to build a new $9 million city hall in Town Center in two phases. The first phase would include city offices and would open at the end of 2015. A second phase would include a meeting room and community spaces. But there’s no money for that phase at the moment. Once that portion of the city hall project is up, it would relieve some of the pressure on community center space, which doesn’t lack for bookings–either at the current center or at the county library’s once community room. The library, too, is pushing for expanded community space. By later this decade, if the library and the city are able to expand such spaces, Palm Coast may replace its shortage of community areas with a glut.
The expanded community center on Palm Coast Parkway would meet all Americans With Disabilities regulations, continue to be a focal point for recreational events and community uses, provide a visitor center that would be easily accessible to I-95, increase programming through partnerships, and provide space for bigger parties, including such things as weddings. The center would also serve as a trail head for Linear Park Trail.
“We’re trying to stay within the means, not sure what all that means right now,” Landon said. “We’re not asking for any approval of any funds right now. This is just one step of moving forward.”
“I think the concept is great,” McGuire said. “I’m just trying to wrap my mind around this as part of the capital projects we have already approved. I just want to make sure we don’t get further in debt.”