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Donation frees art center of debt

Thanks to a man's $88,000 donation, the Beach Art Center can pay off its mortgage and use its annual budget to make improvements.

By MAUREEN BYRNE

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 17, 2000


INDIAN ROCKS BEACH -- The Beach Art Center has never lacked in talent. For years, local artists have nurtured students' artistic aspirations there.

What the center hasn't had much of the past two decades is money. It has been running on a shoestring budget since it opened in 1978. And with $79,000 remaining on a mortgage, its financial future looked bleak.

Until now.

A man who has never taken a single class at the art center has donated about $88,000 in stock shares so it could pay off the mortgage.

"I helped them out a little bit," said Bob Gray, who lived in Indian Rocks Beach for 21 years before moving to Largo two years ago. "I knew they were in bad shape with that mortgage hanging over their head."

No one was more thrilled with Gray's generosity than Betsy Schoepf, executive director of the Beach Art Center. As the non-profit facility's only paid employee, Schoepf is in charge of generating revenue for the center.

"I feel tremendous relief," she said. "I have been giddy with joy over this."

Now that Schoepf doesn't have to worry about making mortgage payments, she and a five-member board of directors can concentrate on making improvements to the 3,500-square-foot building at 1515 Bay Palm Blvd.

"With this good fortune that has come to us, we're now able to use our funds more creatively for improvements, additions and equipment," Schoepf said. "Now we're free to plan."

Short-term goals include making some interior renovations, adding a pottery area and purchasing equipment. Eventually, the building may be expanded to provide studio space for emerging artists, Schoepf said. The center also plans to establish a college scholarship fund for art students.

Although Gray is not an artist, he is familiar with the Beach Art Center because his sister and friends take classes there.

"I can't draw a straight line," he said. "I admire art, though."

Gray, 78, said he decided last fall to donate to the center.

"But I didn't know when I would get around to it," said Gray, a retired electrical engineer.

The right time came last week.

"He called and said this was the day," Schoepf said.

Board members met Tuesday to officially accept the offer: 600 shares of Siebel Systems stock worth $147 a share. Schoepf said enough of the stock will be sold to satisfy the $79,000 mortgage, and the balance will remain in the stock fund for now.

The Beach Art Center, which primarily offers painting classes, was founded in 1978 by George King, an artist who lived in Indian Rocks Beach. It shared the building on Bay Palm Boulevard with an American Legion post. In 1998, the center bought the building from the post, replacing its $1-a-year lease agreement with a monthly mortgage payment.

The center gets its $100,000 budget from fundraisers, grants, and class and membership fees. The money goes toward the center's operating expenses, supplies and instructors' salaries.

And until this week, a mortgage.

"I'm glad I could do something for someone," Gray said. "The beach was good to me when I lived there."

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