Naples panel supports Celebration church continuing services at park

Naples City Council is scheduled to discuss the church’s use agreement on Nov. 4 at Naples City Hall, Eighth Street South.

Cambier Park

755 Eighth Avenue South, Naples, FL

— Gene Scott had something to celebrate today.

Scott, a pastor at Celebration Community Beach Church, received an endorsement from the Naples community services advisory board today. The board unanimously decided to recommend that Naples City Council renew the church’s non-exclusive use agreement for five years.

“I’m pleased with the outcome,” Scott said following the meeting. “They handled it well today.”

The church has a use agreement with the city for space at Cambier Park through November 2010. The agreement allows the church to rent the band shell and park area from 8 to 10:30 a.m. each Sunday.

The agreement, however, does not grant the church exclusive use of the park each week, said Dave Lykins, the city’s community services director. Instead, the church is asked to vacate the band shell if another organization, like the Naples Philharmonic, asks to rent out the property.

The advisory board’s decision comes less than a month before Naples City Council is set to discuss the church’s use agreement. Council members decided earlier this year to discuss the agreement in November to give the church ample time to find a new location if the city decides not to renew the use agreement.

Advisory board members said today they felt ending the relationship would be a bad decision.

“From what I’ve heard and observed, the park is left the same, or better, that it was previous to them being there,” said board member Noreen Schumann.

“This entity has a five-year track record as a renter, and they have a great track record. I would like renters like that.”

Celebration pays $125 a week in the off-season and $145 a week during the season, or about $7,000 a year, for the use of the park.

“It appears to be an asset to the city,” said board member Roslyn Katz. “And financially it is an asset to the city.”

The majority of the seven-member board said they had attended services at the church on at least one occasion, and Pamela Stewart, — the board member who made the motion to recommend extending the use agreement — said she regularly attends services in the park.

Naples City Attorney Bob Pritt said Tuesday belonging to the congregation does not mean Stewart — or any other board member who attends the church — should abstain making decisions about the church’s use agreement, since board members will not see a financial gain or loss because of the decision.

The church has been under fire in recent months as the end of its five-year use agreement draws near. In February, community services board member Audrey Bender resigned from her position after the board said it would not discuss the agreement until the fall.

The discussion first popped up last year when council requested the board to look at special events in downtown Naples. Board members at the time said they felt the church needed to be included in discussions because of the number of people who attended the services each week.

Naples City Council is scheduled to discuss the church’s use agreement on Nov. 4 at Naples City Hall, Eighth Street South.

Connect with Naples reporter Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster at www.naplesnews.com/staff/jenna_buzzacco

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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