LEESBURG, Fla. – Men and women were making finishing touches Monday, getting ready for the grand opening of Leesburg's $9.6 million Venetian Center.
The new community center is Phase three of a three-phase project by city officials to revamp Venetian Gardens.
"This is our biggest piece, $9-$10 million project for the city, I think it's going to be the epicenter of the city," Leesburg Mayor John Christian said.
The new community center includes a 20,700-square-foot multipurpose building, Dozier Circle reconfiguration, parking facilities, and landscaping improvements. The plan is also to build a waterfront restaurant site. City officials say it upgrades facilities originally built in the 1950s.
The Venetian Center caused controversy in June 2018 when those plans included closing down the community pool.
"I am happy for it and grateful but I miss the pool," said Mary Mejias, a Leesburg resident of six years. "It's a place where we came together as people, our kids, our grandkids and we enjoyed the pool."
Christian said the city hopes to close on land by the end of this week for the new community pool to be built. The new pool will be built about two blocks away on Pine Street, a spot that he says will bring two neighborhoods in the city together.
"Ironically, it's going to go into one of the Historic Black Neighborhood in our cities. So we are able to now to connect neighborhoods and we are tearing down racial barriers," Christian said.
In the meantime, Christian hopes residents can enjoy the upgrades made in and around Venetian Gardens over the last few years. Those upgrades include revamping Rogers Park, installing a new splash pad, building a new boat ramp and upgrading Ski Beach. With the $9.6 million community center, it's been a multimillion-dollar investment for the lakefront property.
"So probably $12-13 million easy for our city," Christian said. "That's why it's so important for the residents because it's not a moneymaker, it something for the community to come and enjoy."
The mayor said the city was able to pay for the entire project with cash in hand and didn't have to borrow money or raise taxes. The goal, he says, was to add upgrades that are affordable to the residents of Leesburg.
As for the new community center, it's already being rented out through next year. If you'd like to reserve the building for an event, call the Recreation Department at 352-728-9885.
The grand opening event is Tuesday from 3 p.m. - 5 p.m.