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Businesses donate thousands to upgrade chamber

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image The large conference room where chamber luncheons are held now has an informal seating arrangement where business people and clients can meet in a close, home-like setting. Penny Fletcher photo

Dana Dittmar, executive director of the Sun City Center Chamber of Commerce, says it would have cost more than $50,000 if the chamber had had to pay for what’s been done to renovate it


SUN CITY CENTER — It couldn’t have been done without the generosity of area businesses and volunteers.

Dana Dittmar, executive director of the Sun City Center Chamber of Commerce, says it would have cost more than $50,000 if the chamber had had to pay for what’s been done to renovate it.

Instead, the entire project cost less than $4,000.

“Our members are so proud of their chamber,” Dittmar said in an interview Sept. 14. “Absolutely everything has been redone. Volunteers spent hours, and donated just about everything. All we had to pay for was the painting of the outside of the building and some handyman work and even that was done at a really good deal from John’s Handyman Services.”

The inside of the building was done first, one room at a time, Dittmar said. First, volunteers and staff opened up the lobby by moving the brochure racks from the center of the room to the far end and removed anything else that divided up the room.

“There wasn’t really any place people could sit and look at the materials,” she said. That problem was solved when she found a wood and glass table with four chairs at a yard sale for $40. It fit the idea for the Floridian décor perfectly, she said.

Modern office furniture was donated by Northrup Grumman Corporation, and gradually photographs depicting Floridian themes went on freshly-painted walls.

“It went from what I called a ‘1980’s Ramada Inn look’ to this beautiful new modern place we can all be proud of,” Dittmar said.

Office Manager Kristy Mahoney was signing up a new member when I arrived but soon was checking the names of area businesses that had donated. “Membership has gone up from 259 to 460 in the last two years,” she said.

The offices and lobby were painted by volunteers on a day when Payant Financial Services Inc. next door was having its annual customer appreciation day, and Payant donated food and drinks to the chamber’s volunteers.

During the renovation, Gabi Jones of the BNI group (Business Networking International) that meets at the chamber told Dittmar she’d like to try making a small, living-room-like area in the back of the large conference room where people could meet with clients, or with each other, informally.

It just so happened that Aston Gardens was renovating at the time, and several large doors were given to the chamber and placed decoratively across the back of the room. This makes a space between the doors and the back wall to store things like extra tables and equipment.

The doors line almost the entire back of the conference room, from one side wall to the area Jones decorated like a living room with donated furniture. This space is now used for small groups and one-on-one talks.

“You don’t have to be a chamber member to use that area,” Dittmar said. “It’s for the community.”

ValleyCrest Landscape Maintenance Inc. donated landscaping when the outside work began and Little Harbor Resort donated paint for the outside of the building.

Merle Bowman, a resident volunteer, pulled up the indoor-outdoor carpet that had been on the porch outside the front door and resurfaced the faux flagstone that was found underneath. He also paid for two palm trees, Dittmar said.

South Shore Signs and Solar Designs has installed solar film to the windows and doors which is both an energy saver and adds to the beauty of the Florida décor. Toucans, palm trees, waterscapes and more have replaced the plain glass windows and look more like paintings than windows.

To add further appeal, wicker porch furniture is placed just outside the front door and is sometimes used to talk with residents and guests as well as for business people to relax.
“Our next big project is to resurface the parking lot,” Dittmar said. “We’re taking bids for that now.”

The chamber is at 1651 Sun City Center Plaza, Sun City Center (in the plaza with the Post Office). Its telephone number is (813) 634-5111. Information about the chamber and its activities can be found by visiting www.suncitycenterchamber.org.

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