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Palm Harbor Beacon
Palm Harbor's White Chapel changing hands
Article published on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013
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Photo courtesy of CSA PALM HARBOR
CSA Palm Harbor is now operating the Rheba Sutton White Chapel, above, and Harbor Hall.
PALM HARBOR – The Palm Harbor Community Services Agency is poised to take oversight of the Rheba Sutton White Chapel and Harbor Hall, at least for a year.

Up until this summer, Old Palm Harbor Main Street had been operating and maintaining the historic wedding venue and reception hall at 1190 Georgia Ave. The nonprofit group began leasing the buildings from Pinellas County government after chapel renovations were completed in September 2002.

But they’re done with the venture now, ceding the task to the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency, or PHCSA. The agency already oversees Palm Harbor’s independent parks and recreation program, called CSA Palm Harbor, which includes event rentals at The Centre of Palm Harbor.

CSA Palm Harbor Director Erica Lynford said Main Street leaders first met with her about taking over the facility in June. Lynford and her staff have been operating the facilities under a temporary access and use license agreement with the county since July 29. Adapting to the new venues, while balancing ongoing activities in the parks and at The Centre, has made their schedules very busy, she said recently.

“We’re trying to divide up our time not to neglect these facilities,” she said. “Staff is really bent to try to make it work.”

Lynford told the PHCSA board Aug. 21 that she was willing to enter a one-year agreement with Pinellas County “to see if in fact that facility over there can fund itself.”

“Because if it can’t, I don’t want a part of it,” she explained. “I’m not going to drain the operating budget ... to support those two facilities.”

Lynford said she didn’t have the financial statements to determine if the facilities were self-sustaining.

“I’m in the process of trying to sculpt out a budget for Harbor Hall and White Chapel on numbers I’m pulling together from bills we’re seeing,” she said.

For the year, the budget of the agency’s newest venues would remain separate from CSA Palm Harbor. The new agreement term would be added as an amendment to the agency’s lease with the county for the buildings it currently operates, including The Centre.

Weddings and events already booked at the chapel and hall would go forward, Lynford said. Her staff was working on contacting the brides and their families to inform them of the transition.

The PHCSA board unanimously agreed to enter into a new leasing agreement with the county. As of Sept. 10, the county was still working on drafting that agreement, Lynford said.

The White Chapel, built in 1924, is part of historic Palm Harbor. Harbor Hall, a banquet hall designed to complement the venue and accommodate up to 150 people, sits adjacent to the chapel. For more information, visit thepalmharborwhitechapel.org.

Overall budget

Lynford told the agency that property tax revenue for CSA Palm Harbor in the upcoming fiscal year had actually increased by about $5,000.

“Based on the numbers, I should not need to need to do anything with staff if we hit our numbers and rentals and things like that,” she explained. “We’re proposing to maintain staff at the same levels.”

The one difference in staffing would occur in regards to the new venues. The county is currently reimbursing the agency for the salary of one part-time person. A recently hired CSA Palm Harbor employee, filling a position vacated in May, is splitting her time between managing volunteers as well as overseeing Harbor House and White Chapel, Lynford said.

The majority of the revenue for CSA Palm Harbor comes from property taxes from a special taxing district in Palm Harbor. Last year, that revenue was estimated at $767,912. This year, that revenue is slated at $772,420. Added with other revenue, including donations, membership, facility rentals, special events and programs, the organization has a budget of just over $1.3 million.

The CSA Palm Harbor budget funds 14 full-time and four part-time jobs.
Article published on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013
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