PALM HARBOR — Old Palm Harbor Main Street is asking the county to take back the historic White Chapel, saying it can no longer maintain the 1924 structure at 1190 Georgia Ave.
"The White Chapel is an old building, and as far as I'm concerned, we're essentially being evicted by the termites. We decided that we could not be responsible for the structure anymore,'' said Ted Freidinger, the treasurer for the Main Street group.
The group's board voted June 18 to ask the county to take over responsibility for the landmark, officially known as the Reba Sutton White Chapel, and Harbor Hall next door, where wedding receptions and other events are held.
More than 10 years ago, the county agreed to let the Main Street group operate from the property virtually rent free, and in return, Main Street was responsible for maintaining the building.
Although the group did receive money from the special events held at the White Chapel, a popular wedding venue, the money was not enough to handle recent challenges.
"We voted to give it back to the county with the hopes that it will be managed by the good people in recreation at the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency,'' Freidinger said. "In Palm Harbor, they manage the parks and the community center, and they are the ones who really know what they are doing.''
The board also determined it was time to give up its paid staff, including director Debbie Thomas as well as event coordinator Janice Beiu, Freidinger said.
At least until Pinellas County determines how to move forward, Palm Harbor recreation director Erica Lynford has agreed to let her staff field inquiries about reservations and the needs of the White Chapel and Harbor Hall.
"We believe we have a responsibility to the community, and we were asked to help and that's what we'll do,'' she said.
The Main Street group has not yet officially notified the county of its decision to give up the lease, but it is simply a matter of time, Freidinger said.
"There have been several meetings, and the county, very responsibly, has said, 'Wait a minute, you need to treat those termites,' but we knew it was costly,'' he said.
When county real estate manager Dave DelMonte was asked about the possibility of the county getting the building back, he said he was aware there were struggles.
"It's difficult for many nonprofits,'' he said. "They are not alone.''
Piper Castillo can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4163.