WMFR-FISH explore options for old Cortez fire station

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The old Cortez fire station, 4523 123rd St. Court W., is the subject of talks between leaders of the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage and West Manatee Fire District. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

What’s new with the old Cortez fire station?

In the past several months — since Mary Fulford Green, a FISH member and Cortez historian, floated an idea to West Manatee Fire Rescue about creating a district fire museum in the station — WMFR staff researched the ownership.

The fruits of the research brought a 1997 deed for 4523 123rd St. Court W. to the forefront at a WMFR commission meeting April 16.

The deed granted FISH the fire station with conditions that give the district rights to the property if WMFR requires the use of the property for fire protection services; FISH uses the property for other than a public purpose; FISH fails to remain a nonprofit; or FISH attempts to convey it to an entity other than a nonprofit.

The Anna Maria Fire Control District transferred the property to FISH at a time when volunteer departments — Anna Maria Fire District and the Westside Fire Control District — were preparing to merge into the WMFR district. The new district was created May 20, 2000.

WMFR Chief Tom Sousa told the commissioners he “stumbled upon” the deed while looking into the museum concept.

If FISH sold the property, the district would be asked to release the stipulations, according to Sousa. And if WMFR wanted to enforce a stipulation, court proceedings likely would ensue.

Sousa said he spoke to district attorney Jim Dye, who recommended clearing the deed of the stipulations with a quit-claim deed. He also called Karen Bell, FISH secretary, who advised she was unaware of the matter.

Dye recommended a new deed could be drawn up to prevent “this board and future boards any headaches,” Sousa said.

Dye told The Islander April 26, “If they want to get rid of the stipulations … a quit-claim deed is the best exit door.”

The commissioners had other ideas at their April meeting.

“I don’t see giving away any asset. If it’s not broke, why fix it?” Commissioner Al Robinson said.

Commission Chair David Bishop added, “We’re giving up something without getting something in return.” He didn’t see much liability maintaining the status quo.

The commissioners also spoke of the property’s value and location.

“We may want to move the EMTs there,” Robinson said, mentioning future access issues that could come with the Florida Department of Transportation plans for a high-span Cortez Bridge.

FISH president Kim McVey said April 24, “It’s been 22 years” that FISH has maintained the old fire station property, as well as paying its taxes and other expenses.

FISH receives income from leasing the building and recently purchased a new air conditioner for an apartment.

Jane von Hahmann, FISH vice president, said a Sea Scout group, which met from time to time in the building, stopped renting the space in October 2018.

All rent from the leases has gone into FISH coffers, which are managed by the nonprofit’s board, von Hahmann said.

Von Hahmann said she’ll be bringing up the WMFR inquiries to the board.

For future WMFR discussions, commissioners asked staff to list the pros and cons of releasing the deed stipulations, obtain an aerial photograph of the property and arrange a tour.

WMFR will meet in a workshop and regular meeting at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., Tuesday, May 21, respectively, upstairs at the Palma Sola Presbyterian Church, 6510 Third Ave. W., Bradenton.

The next FISH board meeting will be at 7 p.m. Monday, May 6, at Fishermen’s Hall, 4515 124th St. W., Cortez.

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