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State grant money possible for Mound House

February 15, 2012
By BOB PETCHER, , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Mound House may receive financial help from state legislation procedures.

Fort Myers Beach Mayor Larry Kiker and Town Attorney Jim Humphrey were among four local officials that recently returned from what hopes to have been a successful, grant-seeking mission in Tallahassee.

Kiker, Humphrey, Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson and Philharmonic Center of the Arts Grant Writer Helen Gorman met with Sen. Garrett Richter, Sen. Elizabeth Benacquisto, House Rep. Matt Caldwell and Rep. Gary Aubuchon about the consideration of available money in state budget funding for 2012-13.

The purpose of the trip was to urge the local legislative delegation to consider approving a proposed submitted budget by the Florida Department of State and Division of Cultural Affairs for improvement projects for certain cultural facilities. The state capitol travelers all had a vested interest.

"We went up to meet with the Florida Senate subcommittee for transportation, tourism and economic development and asked them to please consider available funding for our projects," said Humphrey.

The total request by the Division of Cultural Affairs involved $5.993 million in grant money available for 18 projects. Of the 18 projects, three local projects were all ranked among the top 10: Sydney & Berne Davis Art Center (#6); Mound House (#8); and Philharmonic Center of the Arts (#9).

"We tried to stress how important these projects were to Southwest Florida in particularly creating jobs because the emphasis at the state and national level is putting people back to work," said Humphrey. "Not only would we be putting (cultural arts) people back to work, but also workers from the construction industry."

If approved, the Town of Fort Myers Beach would receive $445,000 for Mound House, while Fort Myers would get $500,000 for Sydney & Berne Davis Art Center and Naples would see $300,000 for Philharmonic Center of the Arts.

"Representative Aubuchon as well as Representative Caldwell were very gracious to meet with us and said that if the Senate looked at it favorably, they would try to support us," said Humphrey. "So, we also met with Senator Richter, and he was supportive of it and pleased to see the subcommittee put it into the budget."

Humphrey said the next step is getting the requests through the House-Senate conference committee. Since the House did not include the requests, the Southwest Florida officials felt the need to make the personal trip.

"We showed that the approval of those projects would mean more than $35 million in jobs. If you add the additions from local governments in community contributions or local support, the amount would be closer to $50 million," said Humphrey. "While it is called a grant, it really helps produce revenues with sales tax and just putting people to work. It's a positive return for the state, and that's what we emphasized."

Restoring the interior of the Williams H. Case House to its 1921 grandeur would help open the complete Town-owned property for tourism. The property is now open for pedestrian traffic, and tours for the walk-in shell mound exhibit and landscape plantings are available for donations only.

"For the most part, the grant matches the Town's effort to finish all the work that needs to be done to open the Mound House, including construction work and other renovation work to restore the interior phase for educational displays to make it exciting for people to go to," said Kiker. "Aside from the issues with the observation pier and parking, I think that this may be the last step to open the full property. It may help to see some revenue coming towards the town on that property to help offset some parks & recreation expenses."

Humphrey encourages everyone with a passionate investment in Mound House to stay the course.

"I hope citizens, particularly those from the Friends of the Mound House, will continue to encourage their state representatives and senators to support the inclusion of those projects into the final budget," he said. "We greatly appreciated the efforts of Sen. Elizabeth Benacquisto, Sen. Garrett Richter, Rep. Gary Aubuchon and Rep. Matt Caldwell."



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