Thursday, June 13

Hundreds of thousands of grant dollars allocated for Fort Pierce community center that wasn’t built

It was supposed to be a gathering place for the community. Instead, it’s a fenced-in, empty lot along Avenue D in Fort Pierce’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.

WPTV reported on the termination of the lease between the city and the Lincoln Park Young Professionals for the site of what was supposed to be a community center. The group had received more than $500,000 in grants for the project.

When WPTV contacted Rooted in Change, the nonprofit linked to the Young Professionals, we received an email from an unnamed sender.

“We lost a lot of funds with the previous contractor Joseph “Steve” Cooper, GA Construction Group and we were in the process of recouping those funds through litigation,” the email said in part.

In an interview, Cooper told WPTV the Young Professionals had ended their relationship with him in 2023. He could not recall a specific reason but remembered the client being dissatisfied with the progress of the construction.

Cooper said supply chain issues had caused delays, but his team was able to survey the lot for utility hookups and purchase shipping containers to form the main structure on the lot.

“My bid was somewhere I think between four and 500,000 (dollars),” Cooper said, estimating he was paid “a little over 20% of that.”

At the site of the project, stakes remain in the ground from the surveying process. Cooper said his team also put up the fence surrounding the lot.

“I’m very alarmed and shocked when they say I couldn’t finish the project,” he said. “If they removed me, how could I finish the project?”

Cooper said he never received a letter from a lawyer representing Rooted in Change.

The nonprofit lists Vennis Gilmore as the principal officer in tax documents. A Vennis Gilmore is also listed as an assistant planning director for the city of Fort Pierce.

Gilmore did not respond to a voicemail left on his city phone number Thursday morning. A security guard at Fort Pierce city hall said at about 1:30 p.m. Thursday that she had not seen Gilmore all day.

WPTV visited a home address associated with Gilmore on Wednesday evening, but no one came to the door.

The email from Rooted in Change, sent after the visit, said, “Please refrain from trespassing on properties of anyone affiliated with our organization.”

Allegany Franciscan Ministries, which awarded a $500,000 to the Young Professionals, did not answer questions about how it intends to recoup any funds. Tax documents show Allegany paid the group $358,000 in fiscal year 2021 and $5,000 the following year.

“During the course of (a) grant, written reports documenting the programmatic and financial progress are required periodically,” Allegany wrote in tax filings.

“We are waiting for Allegany Franciscan Ministries to give us guidance on where to return the remaining of the unused funds,” the email from Rooted in Change said.

But the email continued, “We did win the B.O.O.M Grant from Allegany Franciscan Ministries (AFM) for $500,000 but we NEVER received $500,000.

The nonprofit didn’t respond to follow-up questions.

T-Mobile also awarded the group $50,000 in 2022.

“T-Mobile’s Hometown Grants program funds community development projects that create opportunities in small towns and rural areas across the country,” said T-Mobile, in response to questions about the grant. “We’re proud to award these grants, which we do in good faith, require project start and end dates, and request completion within one year. Were disappointed to hear about the delays in Fort Pierce and will work to determine next steps.”

Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *