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Council balks at chamber offer

The City Council isn't ready to spend money on a new building for the Greater Seminole Area Chamber of Commerce.

The city will help, council members said Wednesday, even volunteering to serve spaghetti at fund-raisers. And it has scheduled another meeting next month to try to come up with a solution to the chamber's problems.

But, council members told chamber representatives, the chamber is going to have to pitch in.

"You're going to have to get those 450 chamber members to help as well," council member Jim Dunn said.

The chamber's current home at 8400 113th St., which is owned by the city, is decaying. The chamber, which leases it from the city for $1 a year, says it doesn't have any money to buy or rent a new home.

It wants the city to spend about $80,000 to renovate the former library building on Johnson Boulevard, which would be donated to the city for the chamber's use. The building is owned by Marjorie Johnson, who has agreed to give it to the city for the chamber. The city could finance the renovations by selling the land on 113th Street that the chamber now occupies, chamber officials said.

The current chamber property is assessed at $138,900 by the county property appraiser. The Johnson Boulevard property is assessed at $235,200.

The proposal is a simple land swap, chamber president-elect Tim Schuler said. "We're not asking you to give the chamber 80,000 more dollars. We're asking you to be a conduit."

Council members didn't see it that way.

"It's really taxpayers' money going to it any way you look at it," council member Paul Trexler said. "You can try to justify it and everything else, but to take taxpayers' money and give it to a private entity is wrong."

Council member Pat Hartstein said the city already has somewhere between $61,000 and $97,000 invested in the current chamber headquarters.

"Maybe the city didn't have a good deal to begin with," she said.

Council member Carol Hajek did not participate in the discussion because she also sits on the chamber's board of directors.

Council members said they do not want to sell the 113th Street property.

Mayor Dottie Reeder and others said they could justify spending the $30,000 it would take to do basic structural repairs to the former library, which also would have space for a community room.

But council members balked at the $50,000 that would be needed to get the building ready inside for the chamber's use.

Hartstein asked why the chamber couldn't pay $3,000 or $5,000 a year over the course of the lease to reimburse the city for the renovations.

That is an option, Schuler said, but not a good one for the chamber.

"Then, what we're looking at budgetwise is, we've got to come up with rent and maintenance on top of that," he said. "It's putting a larger burden on the chamber."

Besides, he said, if the chamber pays back the renovation money "the chamber has bought the building for you."

Reeder suggested the chamber stage spaghetti dinners, auctions, concerts and raffles to raise the $50,000.

Schuler said the chamber hesitates to do those things because it might take away from other groups that depend on such activities for money. Besides, he said, the chamber will need to raise money to equip the building after it is renovated.

Dunn said the chamber would not have this problem if it had maintained the current building as the 1988 lease required; Schuler said the chamber didn't have the money for maintenance.

Any new agreement would require the chamber to set up a maintenance account, he said.

"Give us a turnkey building that's decent," Schuler said, "and we'll take care of it."