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Fort Pierce formally leases historic Orange Avenue structure to The Lindsay School of the Arts

FORT PIERCE – The Fort Pierce Redevelopment Agency voted unanimously Oct. 21 to approve a 20-year lease of the historic Anastasia Catholic School building on Orange Avenue to The Lindsay School of the Arts.

City Manager Nick Mimms could barely contain his enthusiasm for the proposal in a building he says is poised at the gateways of both the Lincoln Park and Peacock Arts districts.

“We’re talking about having a lease with The Lindsay School of the Arts, and we do have very exciting representatives here,” he said. “They’re anxious to get in that building, and we’re anxious to work with them on this public/private venture to acquire the necessary funding and build out the interior of that beautiful structure that was built in 1914 and is currently listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.”

The Lindsay School of the Arts is currently housed in a facility at 101 S. 2nd St., and Mr. Mimms said its directors only plan to use the first floor of the three-story structure at 910 Orange Ave. to hold its classes in dance, drama, theatre arts, creative writing, the spoken word and music production.

“The second floor will be a children’s library, an art gallery with art and historical exhibits, and the third floor will be renovated to utilize as an auditorium for performances, shows and events,” he continued. “Site improvements shall include, but not be limited to, parking, landscaping, an event venue, and of course, a peacock feeding and preservation area, exterior art displays, micro-mobility staging and also a multimodal center.”

Agency Member Rufus Alexander then questioned Mr. Mimms about the collaborative effort between the school and the FPRA and expressed concern on how the two entities would fund improvements to the aging building, which was severely damaged in the 2004 back-to-back hurricanes.

“Are we snatching money from where we don’t have it?” he asked.

Mr. Mimms said in his response he hopes the two new partners will be proactive in their funding efforts.

“Actually, what we would like to do is work together in identifying and finding funding sources, [such as] reaching out to the Secretary of the Interior or the Florida Humanities Council or the state through state appropriations,” he answered. “We want to move forward with identifying and finding funding resources together to get this done, in addition to their own fundraising efforts.”

Mr. Alexander also wanted to know if the city had negotiated a timeline with the school of its planned improvements to the structure, which had to be re-roofed after the 2004 hurricane season.

“I want it to be successful,” he insisted. “Is it going to be built out in phases, and do you have some kind of direction that we can make sense of?”

The city manager assured Mr. Alexander that the city has protections built into the proposed agreement, which also includes a 10-year lease option agreeable to by both parties at the end of the initial 20-year period.

“We have the initial year that we’re going to evaluate the performance and the actual progress of the design and permitting,” he emphasized. “If we have not had sufficient building and renovation progress within two years, then of course we always have a way out. There’s a default provision… that if either party – specifically The Lindsay School of the Arts – is not reaching their perspective milestones, we have the ability to terminate and find another source to assist us with the rehabilitation of this beautiful facility.”

Mayor Linda Hudson then compared the type of nominal lease the city is offering the school -- $10 a year – to those previously offered to both the Backus Museum and the Humane Society.

“So, it’s very much like what we had when we had the Humane Society, very similar to that because we own the building,” she said.

“Hopefully we have a better [relationship],” Mr. Mimms responded, alluding to the fact that the Society’s Savannah Road shelter stopped taking new animal intakes as of Oct. 1 and is refusing an eviction notice on the property.

“No, I don’t mean to compare it in any other way except that there’s precedence for this,” she said as she laughed. “The School of the Arts has got to have a plan in mind for their fundraising and being able to live up to their part of the bargain, too, because they can’t totally look to us to provide all of the grant writing or all of the direct fundraising efforts.”

For his part, Commissioner Reginald Sessions believes the school and its backers have already proven their fundraising mettle over their last year of operations.

“I think in this situation, though, the tenant has displayed by way of action in terms of what they’ve done so far and their accomplishments, especially when it comes down to the fundraising aspect of this,” he mused. “At any rate with the enthusiasm of these young people and what they’ve done so far, I commend them. I do believe… those young people will see that building fully utilized in terms of what it was back in the day, but for a better purpose. If we have some individuals here who want to come forward and put some work and effort into making this a reality, we should be in support of them. Otherwise, it’s going to sit there and rot.”

Chairwoman Hudson agreed.

“We have over a million dollars in the building including the roof,” she added. “You’re right, you’re exactly right – it needs to be used.”

Commissioner Thomas Perona hopes the current enthusiasm is tempered with measurable goals so both the FPRA and the school understand how to measure their progress.

“There’s a lot of excitement, a lot of support and a lot of energy going on this,” he said. “I just hope that we as landlords at least give them a minimum set of deliverables that we expect. It’d be real easy just to sit down as we ink the lease to be able to say here are some of the minimum standards that we expect in that first year. And that way we have a great relationship with no misunderstandings and can participate in the excitement and support without any gray moments hanging over us.”

Agency Member Jeremiah Johnson said he noted several conditions in the lease that differentiated it from the 50-year agreement with the Humane Society, including the shorter time span and right of city staff to visit the property at will.

“A few things not to repeat history, but having access to the property as a landlord, I looked through it and it’s in there,” he insisted. “We’re talking about 20 years in 2038 or 2039, so we’re not repeating history like we are with this other facility we’re dealing with.”

Mr. Johnson also asked the city manager for assurances that the historic structure would be property maintained, and the latter emphasized the need for proper communication between the partners.

“We have existing leases with other facilities, and if we have an event, say the roof caves in, [then] it’s just a simple call,” Mr. Mimms responded. “It’s just an understanding, and good verbal and written communication will get us to where we need to be.”

Mr. Mimms also believes this public/private partnership will help preserve the St. Anastasia building for future generations to enjoy.

“The building upkeep, the operational efficiency of the building, is their responsibility, but we shall always keep that building in perpetuity,” he insisted. “It’s a jewel for us, and we are going to make sure the exterior envelope and the roof and the exterior doors are always in an acceptable level.”

Mr. Johnson also wanted to ensure the community still had access to the property for its events, such as the annual Mustard Seed Thanksgiving meal served to the community in the building.

“I know they want to partner with those community events, and I’ve heard them talk about that,” he said. “That’s in the language saying if there’s an opportunity, [but] how does that work? They’re in control of it, or what?”

Mr. Mimms explained that the city already has plans to hold some 24 events in the soon-to-be occupied structure.

“I think we have a tremendous partner in The Lindsey School of the Arts, and I believe that they have already taken over one event for us, and they’re going to do the Peacock Music and Arts Festival,” he answered. “I would say that this is a unique opportunity with some folks that love our city. And I think the composition of this Board and the composition of the Lindsey School of the Arts is going to reap very productive benefits for our community. What they’re offering is another alternative educational experience for our community and giving our community another activity generator that’s going to help the districts.”

In response to Agency Member Alexander’s concerns about a nearby church congregation’s continual use of the property for overflow parking, Mr. Mimms said those details were already being worked out with the new tenants. Agency Member Johnson then made the motion to approve the lease, which was seconded by Agency Member Sessions who then gave his fellow Board members and city staff a final warning.

“I know we talked about deliverables and making that a part of all of this,” he said. “I just hope that in doing so they’re realistic deliverables and not impossible deliverables. We don’t want to set these people up to fail in light of what they’re trying to accomplish here, so please keep that in mind.”

No school representatives spoke during the lease approval hearing, but the Vice-President of Art & Outreach, Heather HeRo Wells, did address the FPRA during the initial lease discussion Sept. 9 and thanked the city for its encouragement in the process.

“This has been an ongoing process since last October,” she said during the earlier meeting. “Our goal is to be moving there within the next few months, and then our students will not only take part in the Downtown District, but also be able to watch the entire process of St. Anastasia.”

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