Three more organizations stepped up to the podium at today’s City Commission meeting to ask for a slice of the federal American Rescue Plan Act pie that Lakeland received, part of the $1.9 trillion in federal economic aid to local and state governments, along with businesses and individuals, making it one of the largest economic rescue plans in U.S. history.
Representatives of The Well, the Mayor’s Council on the Arts and the African American Chamber of Commerce of Polk County made presentations to the commission today seeking funding. They join the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce, which made a request last month for funds to bring two minority-operated small business assistance centers to Lakeland.
Sallie Brisbane Stone, who founded The Well on Parker Street, wasn’t specific in the amount she was hoping to receive, but said anything would help the business center that is used for office and collaborative work spaces, as well as for the provision of educationally focused resources for small businesses.
“We could do a lot better with more funding, more support in kind, more opportunity to have a collaborative work relationship,” Brisbane Stone said. “Currently staff for The Well are myself and my very faithful husband, Mario.”
Since it opened in January, The Well has hosted more than 70 events, including “Mental Health Matters,” which brought together about 150 mental health providers, staff members and interested parties in Polk County inside the large meeting hall. There have also been art shows, book signings and musical performances.
City commissioners asked about budgeting, marketing advertising and The Well’s financial make-up, which includes for-profit and a non-profit foundation.
“Your questions and comments speak to the need,” Brisbane Stone said. “Hopefully there will be some funding support. I do think that there is a need for more collaboration in that particular area, particularly in underserved and underrepresented communities, that that has to be something that we are intentional about as you come together to collaborate.”
Kerry Falwell, chairwoman of the Mayor’s Council on the Arts, asked for $200,000 to help some of the 16 organizations that are members of the council. It would be limited to those groups with an operating budget of less than $1 million. Falwell, who runs Floirda Children’s Museum, formerly called Explorations V, said that threshold excludes her own organization, along with others that have professional fundraisers and grant writers. The groups left would be able to share in the funding as they continue to return to in-person activities after pandemic-related disruptions.
“What this does is allows a targeted amount of money to help those organizations make a huge impact,” Falwell said. “This would be a one-time request. This would be something to hold yourself up and push forward and do something bold.”
City Commissoner Sara Roberts McCarley said she did not want to see the funding sit idle and then “clawed back by the federal government.
“The smallest ones are most on the cusp of not being able to move forward,” McCarley said. “The groups that have the development directors and grant writers are in a different situation.”
Doris Moore Bailey, president of the African American Chamber of Commerce of Polk County, reminded commissioners of President Biden’s Executive Order 14050 advancing economic opportunity for Black Americans and requested $450,000 to help small businesses in the area establish micro-enterprises.
“I’m here to request a hand up, not a handout, according to the monies that are provided to the city,” Moore Bailey said.
She referenced a recent request from former Mayor Gow Fields and the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce of $800,000 to help minority businesses using the Tampa Bay Black Business Investment Corporation, out of Tampa, and Prospero USA, with offices in Tampa and Orlando.
“Why bring outsiders in to do what we can do here ourselves?” Moore Bailey said. “So my question today for the chamber, president of the Chamber and its members: What is the city’s vision for inclusion for an African American Chamber of Commerce?”
The budget hearing is scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m. in the city commission chambers on the third floor of City Hall.
Kimberly C. Moore is an award-winning reporter and a Lakeland native. She can be reached at [email protected] or 863-272-9250.