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June 24,2019 - Babcock hurricane shelter, field house get approved by Gov. DeSantis

By LIZ HARDAWAY Staff Writer

Jun 21, 2019

 

PUNTA GORDA — The Southwest Florida Regional Emergency Shelter is included in the $90.98 billion state budget that Governor Ron DeSantis approved.

Rep. Michael Grant (R-Port Charlotte) originally proposed the shelter, asking for $8 million from the general revenue fund. The shelter will be built at Babcock Ranch and double as a field house when not in use.

“It’s absolutely fantastic for Charlotte County and great for the entire region,” said Syd Kitson, the CEO of real estate developer Kitson & Partners, which developed Babcock Ranch. “I truly thank our local delegation and in particular Governor DeSantis for stepping up for helping the region which has such a need.”

“It’s an important step forward in Charlotte County’s growth,” Grant told the Sun Friday afternoon. “It’s something people have been clamoring for, for 20 years, even before we got hit with Hurricane Charley.”

 

Southwest Florida has the greatest shortage of storm shelters in the state, according to a state study. Though Charlotte County has a handful of shelters, none of these are Red Cross-approved, which is the state’s minimum requirement for facilities to be considered safe as hurricane evacuation shelters.

 

“I’m glad the governor realized it wasn’t just a Charlotte County issue, but it was a regional issue and will have a positive impact on Southwest Florida,” Grant added.

With this funding in place, the next step will be to secure local funding.

 

“We’re hoping that Charlotte County could invest $2 million,” Kitson said, “and they haven’t approved it and need to go through the process of vetting it through the public … now that we have something to talk about, we’re excited to talk about it.”

 

“We’re looking forward to the public hearing process to make (the shelter) what it needs to be,” said Kitson and Partners spokesperson Lisa Hall.

 

When not in use during an emergency, the field house will be an athletic facility that can be used for other civic purposes, such as events, Kitson said. The company is starting on design concepts now.

 

“We want to get this going as fast as we can,” Kitson said. And if everything falls into place, he’d “love for it to be up within a year and a half.”

Email: Liz.Hardaway@yoursun.com