City Commission votes to partially restore Thelma Boltin Center
BY JENNIFER CABRERA
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – At the General Policy Committee (GPC) meeting on April 27, the Gainesville City Commission voted to partially restore the Thelma Boltin Center.
The building was built in 1943 as the Gainesville Serviceman Center and was renovated in 1999. In August 2019, in response to a request for a new roof, the GPC approved a comprehensive renovation plan. However, during that process, the City learned that the building is not structurally sound. Since the summer of 2022, the City has held focus group meetings to gather input from stakeholders, including dance groups and other organizations that rented the facility in the past. The City’s Historic Preservation Board asked staff to work with a historic preservation architect, so the City hired REG Architects to do a feasibility study.
Four options were presented to commissioners:
Option 1: Complete replacement for $5.6 million, which would include rebuilding the auditorium to match the existing building as closely as possible, with the size increased by 34% to provide better programming space. This option would include elements like theatrical lighting and sound, a green room and dressing rooms, concessions, and additional rental space.
Option 2: Partial restoration for $5.6 million, which would preserve the south and west walls of the existing building but demolish the rest. The rebuilt portions will match the existing building architecturally and will incorporate as much of the new construction layout as possible. The resulting building will be 400-500 square feet smaller than the replacement option. The green room and dressing rooms would be lost under this option, and the Heritage Pecan Tree will have to be removed. This option was the preferred choice of the Historic Preservation Board.
Option 3: Complete restoration for $5.4 million, which would maintain the historic integrity of the exterior of the building but has a high cost uncertainty. The architect said the cost could go as high as $6.2 million.
Option 4: Repair the existing facility for $450,000. This option would remove and replace the roof, replace the failing roof trusses, and make other repairs.
Andrew Persons, who was representing the City Manager at the meeting, said he and the City Manager preferred the partial restoration option, which “balances both the need for new construction and usable program space, as well as a desire from the community to see a portion of the building restored.”
Mayor Harvey Ward pointed out that funding for the project will come from Wild Spaces Public Places (WSPP), not from the City’s general fund: “But money we spend from the Wild Spaces pot is money we can’t spend on other Wild Spaces projects, so that’s important to keep in mind.” He said the tax generally brings in $7-8 million per year. He added, “I want to make sure everyone knows… that this is not going to cease to be the Thelma Boltin Center… The question is, what will the floor plan be like, what will the usability of it be like, etc.”
Commissioners Reina Saco and Casey Willits were both concerned that other projects could get delayed if they decided to spend over $5 million on the Thelma Boltin Center; the cost is also double the size of any WSPP project to date. Willits also remarked that his district does not have a place like the Thelma Boltin Center where the public can hold small performances and ceremonies.
During public comment, most people favored restoring the original building, with partial restoration as their second choice; one person preferred simply repairing it, and one preferred a complete replacement.
Commissioner Bryan Eastman made a motion to move forward with the partial restoration. Willits said he agreed with one of the members of the public who said it was “dishonest” to call it partial restoration because that option would only keep two walls and part of the footprint of the building. However, he said the partial restoration provided an opportunity to “keep honest” to the architecture of the original building and that it’s important to him for the new portion to “call back to the old portion.”
The commissioners voted unanimously for the partial restoration option.
Casey is upset that his district doesn’t have a place like the Thelma Bolton Center. No idea where he’s going with that! And Saco, well, of course she’s opposed.
Was she wanting to fix our roads?
They can hold Peaceful Sundays there!
There they go again…..they just can’t help themselves. Spending money they don’t have. Soon there will be no GRU ‘rainy day’ fund for them to pillage.
A responsible Commission would simply make the repairs and get the building functional in 6 months . Not spend money they don’t even have yet. Just because the money is coming in does not mean you have to spend it, Capiche?
They go with the option that blows their WSPP budget while providing 75% of the space of a new building for the same price as a new building. Its no wonder they’re broke.
“But money we spend from the Wild Spaces pot is money we can’t spend on other Wild Spaces projects, so that’s important to keep in mind.” Well no schitt Sherlock… Really, I had no idea that if you spend money on something, you won’t have that amount available to spend on something else….. what a concept. Is big belly Ward serious? Pointing that out is like pointing out that the sky is blue….
Hey, it’s baby steps for them–this might be the very first time they have ever realized that tax revenue is not infinite and they actually have to budget cost/benefit.
This one i agree on. This was the USO in town in the 1940s.
Tear the thing down and start over! There is nothing sacred about the building itself. If we don’t, future city communists will want to tear it down and rebuild it anyway, once they find new problems and realize it doesn’t have enough space for their propaganda theater.
If the historical value of this building (which to be honest looks pretty bland/unremarkable to me) was truly that important, then we should have gone with option 4 for $450k. It makes the building structurally sound and maintains nearly all of the original building.
If the function of the building to the community was that important (no idea what events are normally held here), then option 1 seems the most sensible of the three remaining options. It’s the same price as option 2 ($5.6 million), and you end up with a brand new building with 37% more usable space.
Instead they chose to save two original exterior walls for…good luck? Sentimental value? And still pay $5.6 million for a space that is 400-500 sq foot smaller than the original?
I really don’t understand the decision-making process here and this $5.6 million seems like it is being blown on a facility that will only be used by a small number of people.
Equity demands that every neighborhood have the same number of tax-funded amenity centers as the 3% Dempond does: Thomas Center, Bolton Center, Reserve Center and Park, the Duckpond park, Roper Park, Metheson center events annex, public Library, Tom Petty Park — nearby Bo Diddley Plaza, Citizens Field-MLK center…