Via St. Pete Catalyst

A local nonprofit will continue operating from one of the area’s most underserved communities after Pinellas County officials agreed to relinquish the building it leases in a $1.2 million sale.

The Florida Dream Center’s St. Petersburg address belies its headquarters at a former Lealman fire station. The unincorporated area just outside the city limits is home to over 20,000 people – and many lack access to transportation, grocery stores and safe, affordable housing.

No county commissioners questioned the organization’s impact at their Nov. 14 meeting. However, a previously discussed plan to provide the Dream Center with a permanent home sparked debate.

“I understand and recognize all of the great things you guys do in Lealman,” said Commissioner Brian Scott. “I just have some concerns with donating property and structures to not-for-profits. I’m not comfortable with that.”

Commissioner Dave Eggers also expressed hesitation to “donate” land valued at $1.2 million and earmarked for affordable housing initiatives. In 2016, county officials used Penny for Pinellas land acquisition funding to acquire the property at 4017 56th Ave. N. for $640,000 from the Housing Finance Authority.

In 2017, the Dream Center began leasing the building and addressing the surrounding community’s extensive unmet needs. Laura Simkanich, a longtime resident and volunteer, became emotional at the thought of the organization leaving Lealman.

According to its website, the Dream Center has provided nearly a million meals, distributed 1.2 million pounds of food, completed 93 revitalization projects, removed 47 tons of debris, provided over 3,500 people with “self-sufficiency” assistance $and graduated 68 work readiness program participants – since Jan. 1.

“Many of these students are low-risk inmates who want to succeed when they are getting out of jail,” Simkanich said. “We have made a huge impact on Lealman.

“If they were to lose their location, there would be a large population left that would go hungry, go without lights and may not be able to keep their homes.”

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