Ocala Main Street to take over old American Legion building

Side view of American Legion building [Ocala Gazette Nov. 29, 2023]

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Posted November 30, 2023 | By Caroline Brauchler

The old American Legion Hall, which has sat vacant for years in Tuscawilla Park, will now be taken over by Ocala Main Street to become the “Heart of the Park,” a downtown hub for entertainment, business, music and games.

The building, located at 516 NE Sanchez Ave., will feature a large ballroom space with art and history exhibits, equipment rental for use in the park, a bodega, kitchen, OMS office space, restrooms and storage space, according to OMS Executive Director Jessica Fieldhouse.

“This is a project for our community,’’ Fieldhouse said. She added that when the construction is finished in 2025, “It’s something that’s going to be a landmark for generations to come and we really want to celebrate the history and the historic preservation of what has happened within that space.”

The city has agreed to a five-year lease with OMS to turn the old building into the “Heart of the Park.” OMS, a local nonprofit, works to revitalize downtown to enrich the community, celebrate the arts and embrace history.

“The main area will be a museum and we want to have a collection of all of the different museums around the county as a kind of one-stop-shop for all of the history of Ocala and then really celebrate the downtown history as well,” Fieldhouse said.

The building has not been used by the American Legion for nearly 10 years, and in the years since has infrequently been used as a meeting space for the city. Fieldhouse said OMS hopes to see a reduction in crime and vagrancy in the area when the building is revitalized as a community hub.

Upon completion, the main ballroom and museum area of the building will be available for rental to the public as a venue for weddings, parties and other events. There will also be multiuse space for community groups and clubs, she said.

The building will also facilitate equipment rental for use in the park, such as for tennis rackets, balls, fishing poles, basketballs and maybe one day motorized boats, Fieldhouse said.

OMS plans to invest $202,000 into the project. Its funding will come from corporate donations and go toward new ceilings, floors and lights; adding a deck and windows to overlook the lake; renovating to make space for a public museum, office space, concessions, kitchen and venue; and utilities.

In its proposal, OMS asks the city to handle structural renovations, HVAC, major maintenance, additional parking and property insurance.

The inspiration for the project came in part from Forsyth Park in Savannah, Georgia, as the similar trees and foliage at the south end of Tuscawilla Park are well-suited for picnicking, hammocking and relaxing, Fieldhouse said.

The renovations for the building will include a small bodega for grab-and-go food options, perfect to take on a picnic, she said.

The construction will take place in two phases, the first with an anticipated completion of December 2024 and the second with an anticipated completion of May 2025. Phase one of construction will be to complete the deck, interior ballroom and office. Phase two will be to complete the multipurpose room and grab-and-go store, Fieldhouse said.

“We hope that we can activate this space in a way that it will be beneficial for our community for decades to come,” she said.

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