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Plans for Florida Conference Center progress

Plans for Florida Conference Center progress

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Plans for Florida Conference Center progress

By Erik J. Alsgaard / Nov. 5, 2008 {0937}

LAKELAND — Although nothing is set in stone, plans are moving forward for a new Florida Conference Center.

(Left to right) Hal and Marjorie Roberts, Florida Southern College President Anne Kerr and Florida Southern College Board of Trustees Chairman Robert Fryer on the Florida Southern College campus in Lakeland. Photo #08-1055. For longer description see photo gallery.

In a meeting Nov. 3, Florida Conference Treasurer Mickey Wilson briefed conference staff on the status of those plans in the wake of an announcement by Florida Southern College that it had secured a private donor to provide funds to purchase the current conference center property and buildings.

In a press release Oct. 31, the college said Florida Southern College President Anne Kerr announced a $3.5-million gift from Marjorie and Hal Roberts of Lakeland that will be used to establish the Roberts Academy, a transitional school for gifted children with dyslexia.

“The United Methodist Building at 1140 E. McDonald St. is being purchased and designed to house the Roberts Academy, the Roberts Center for Learning and Literacy, the Florida Southern Department of Education, and the College’s preschool and kindergarten programs,” the press release stated.

Several conference center staff first heard the news from friends or relatives who work at Florida Southern. Wilson gathered conference staff to give them an update on why the college made its announcement and what the future may hold.

“Any buying or selling of property will be approved by the annual conference,” Wilson stressed. “Even though the Book of Discipline carries provisions for doing it otherwise between Annual Conference sessions, Bishop Whitaker, the cabinet and I wanted to do this with full transparency and disclosure. Nothing has been signed yet, but things are looking good and we’re close. Anything we sign will have the contingency of approval from the annual conference.”

Wilson began the meeting with a brief history of the efforts to move the conference center from its current location.

“Since 2005, when a task force of the conference board of trustees was formed to explore the relocation of the conference center, we’ve been working on this task,” Wilson said. “It should come to no one’s surprise that Florida Southern is interested in the property.”

The Rev. Dr. Bob Gibbs, pastor at St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church in Brandon, has chaired the conference center relocation task force since its formation.

The current Florida Conference Center in Lakeland was built in 1969. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #08-1056.

Florida Southern College has an enrollment of 1,710 undergraduate and 108 graduate students from 41 states and 31 foreign countries, according to its Web site. The 125-year-old school is located across the street from the current conference center.

The task force has looked at several options over the years, Wilson said, including the possibility of moving the conference center to Orlando, Tampa or Leesburg. Each of those options, he said, had unique problems prohibiting such a move.

The conference board of trustees and relocation task force are looking at a potential new conference center building in Lakeland, located near the downtown area, Wilson said. The building, which is currently vacant, would need major renovations but is well within the budget established for the move.

The conference is also exploring possibilities of having the Florida United Methodist Foundation join the conference in a new building, Wilson said. Currently, the foundation’s offices are located in downtown Lakeland, approximately 1.5 miles from the conference center building.

“We had three criteria moving forward on a new conference center building,” Wilson said. “First, we weren’t willing to pay one dime of apportionment money for a new building. Second, any donors that came forward to help could not conflict with our current capital campaign. And lastly, we didn’t want to carry a mortgage on the new property.

“So far,” he said, “we’ve done that.”

In response to a question from a staff person on a timeline for moving, Wilson said it is likely staff would occupy a new building no earlier than August 2010.

“The deal we are looking at with Florida Southern, after a contract is signed, will let us stay in the current building for 18 months with a lease agreement for $1 per month,” Wilson said.

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,
, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Alsgaard is director of communications for the Florida Conference.