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Date of Issue: January 25, 2007

Center plans February 'topping' party, November grand opening

When the Anna Maria Island Community Center board of directors first announced its expansion plans in December 2001, the estimated cost of a new facility was put at about $2.5 million.

Little did the board and executive director Pierrette Kelly realize what they were taking on in raising that $2.5 million.

Rising oil prices the past five years have correspondingly increased construction costs to the point where the original $2.5 million figure doubled to $5 million, forcing the Center board to re-evaluate its goal.

"When we got the revised estimate of $5 million, I thought at first 'we can't do this,'" said Kelly. But the board, Kelly, the Center staff and the community buckled down and negotiated the price down to $4.5 million, along with eliminating some of the proposed features and additions in the new structure.

The board then came up with some financing from Northern Trust Bank to continue the project, but even after construction began, the Center was still faced with a January payment deadline.

Thankfully, that deadline was met, said Kelly, but the Center still needs another $1,037,000 to complete the project.

"We really haven't taken the fundraising campaign Islandwide," said Kelly, "but that's the next move starting in February."

Fundraising measures could include people buying commemorative benches, plaques or a tree at the Center, or "just about anything anyone wants to name," said Kelly. Another idea being studied is "spare change" cans at Island businesses.

The Center could probably borrow the $1 million and change needed for completion, but "nobody wants to borrow any more money," she added.

The Center will continue to seek grants and private donations and Kelly is confident that once the campaign goes Islandwide, all financial goals will be met.

"We've come this far and overcome so many obstacles," said Kelly, that it's impossible not to succeed with the effort.

Indeed. The board has scheduled a "topping off" party Feb. 8 to celebrate completion of the highest part of the new building's frame.

Following that, Kelly is hopeful that some services could be in operation at the new facility by this summer. She also noted that the soccer program might use the field at Holmes Beach in addition to the field at the Center, but there are no plans to move Little League baseball to Holmes Beach. The ball field is being renovated and will once again be used for baseball, she said.

"Some people have suggested we use Holmes Beach, but that field doesn't have any lights," Kelly noted.

So, how optimistic is Kelly that the dream will come true? "Pretty optimistic," she said with a smile.

The board has "optimistically" scheduled a grand opening party for the new Center on Nov. 7, 2007.

"Make plans to be there," she said, adding in true fundraising fashion that anyone wishing to donate to the capital campaign for the new building or who has a fundraising idea can call the Center at 778-1908.