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After more than $500,000 of public and private support for community center, lot remains empty

Lincoln Park Young Professionals received $500,000 in grants to build community engagement space, but 3 years later, lot still empty
Posted at 12:00 AM, May 23, 2024

FORT PIERCE, Fla. — Behind the chain link fence at 1134 and 1138 Avenue D, next to the decrepit Lincoln Theatre with a bullet hole in a window, sits an empty lot.

The city of Fort Pierce voted to terminate its lease with the Rooted in Change, Inc./Lincoln Park Young Professionals, who were working to create a community center called The Root. The lease, dated as being signed in October 2022, said their group could lease the building for $10 as it created a community engagement space.

According to previous WPTV reporting, the organization received $500,000 in grants from the Allegany Franciscan Ministries. The organization also posted it received a grant from T-Mobile for $50,000. But, more than three years later, the plot is empty and officials with the city of Fort Pierce said the group hasn't applied for any building permits.

"We have a site that's unkempt," said City Manager Nicholas Mimms at a board meeting earlier this month. "It's unsafe and it needs to get cleaned up immediately."

Emails released by the city of Fort Pierce show the organization stopped building the project because it refused to build permanent bathrooms, a condition in the lease. It also criticized Allegany Franciscan Ministries and the city for not supporting the project enough.

"After quite some thought, our organization has decided that if we are required to do permanent restrooms, we would have to end the progress of the project," the email to the city read. "We currently do not have the support for such a cost. We were hoping to do this in phases as a temporary space that would not be open every day and would not have an occupied building. However, with no support from the City and Allegany anymore; our best decision may be to dissolve this project."

WPTV contacted Allegany Franciscan Ministries late Wednesday. It didn't get back to WPTV with a statement before publication.

WPTV tried to contact Vennis Gilmore, who state records and federal records show is on leadership at both Rooted in Change, Inc./Lincoln Park Young Professionals.

After publication, WPTV received an email from the nonprofit blaming Allegany Franciscan Ministries for problems.

"The decision of Allegany Franciscan Ministries (AFM) to terminate the employment of Regional Vice President (Upendo Shabazz) and Project Manager Bruce Lewis, contributed to the delays, confusion, miscommunication, and legal engagement which ultimately led to us deciding to not continue with the project," said an unnamed spokesperson for the nonprofit.

The group also said it lost money from a previous contractor and is using litigation to recoup those funds.

According to the city of Fort Pierce's website, a Vennis Gilmore is listed as an assisted planning director. WPTV contacted the city Wednesday night to determine if it was the same person and didn't hear back by publication.

Pastor Anthony Sanders, who is organizing a meeting to find solutions after the city saw three gun deaths over the weekend, said he believes a community center like the facility proposed is a possible solution to gun violence.

"We need things for the youth to do, and when the youth have nothing to do, they're killing," he said.

WPTV reported on three gun deaths over the weekend, which came in a city where the median amount of murders over the last six years is seven. He wants his meeting to mobilize people rather than just discuss solutions.