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Apopka City Council

Apopka Chamber continues its 2024 rollercoaster ride

Board votes to vacate building after lobbying City Council to extend the lease


According to its website, the Apopka Area Chamber of Commerce has been "The Voice of Business since 1913." But in its 111-year existence, 2024 may turn out to be its most tumultuous year.

In the wake of CEO/President Cate Manley's unexpected departure in March, the Board took a proactive step by proposing a 'Chamber Day' at the Apopka City Council's May 1st meeting. Their aim was to secure an extended lease of at least 10 years on the Chamber's building, ensuring a stable future for the organization. 

Although no decision was made, it seemed clear its preference was to stay.

But then, during Apopka City Commissioner Nick Nesta's portion of "City Council Reports," he asked this surprising question.

"The Chamber of Commerce... I got their notice to vacate," Nesta told the Council. "I guess let's walk through that. Do we have any information from them? Are there receipts on work that's been done and insurance claims that have been done? Do we have any data on anything other than they just want to leave?"

To say 2024 has been a rollercoaster ride for this Chamber would be an understatement. Here are just a few of the twists and turns it has experienced:

On March 10th:

Cate Manley, the President and CEO of the Apopka Area Chamber of Commerce, announced her time in that role will end at the end of March. At the top of a Chamber email/newsletter, Manley posted the following statement:
"A Message from the President
With every "spring-forward time change" comes a new season and new beginnings.
In my time serving the Apopka community we have accomplished much together. I feel blessed to have had an opportunity to learn and work with you for the past 3 years. Although my time with the chamber ends this month, The Apopka Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation, boards, and organizations will continue to have my support and guidance."
On April 15th:
The Chamber Board responds to Manley's resignation 36 days later with an email to its members.
"I hope this message finds you well. I am writing to express our sincere gratitude to Cate Manley for her exceptional leadership and unwavering support over the past three years.

During her tenure, Cate has steered our organization with dedication, ensuring that we remained steadfast in our mission and vision. Her strategic guidance and commitment have been instrumental in our growth and in the further economic growth in our community.

Furthermore, I would like to extend our appreciation to Cate for her continued support during this transitional period. Her willingness to assist in the transition process until her successor is appointed exemplifies her dedication to the organization and its future.

Please join me in acknowledging Cate’s invaluable contributions and in wishing her the very best in her career trajectory. We are truly grateful for her leadership, mentorship, and friendship.

Thank you, Cate, for your service and for leaving a lasting impact on our organization.

Warm regards,

Charles Chambers, Chairman
Apopka Area Chamber of Commerce, Board of Directors"
On April 29th:
The Chamber Board calls for members to attend the May 1st City Council meeting to request an extended lease on the property it has called home for decades.
"Celebrate a Chamber Day at the City of Apopka Council Meeting!
We need your voice at the next City of Apopka council meeting. As the largest and oldest business member organization in Apopka (111 years), it is time to share our voice!

If you would like to speak you must fill out a green speaker card upon entering the council chambers. You will be called up by the clerk when it is your turn during public comment. If you want to support the chamber, but do not want to speak, you are encouraged to attend as a chamber business supporter. 

See suggested topics to speak about during public comment (4 minutes max).
Members, before you speak on your topic of choice below, please follow the first 4 steps. #ChamberStrong
  1. ​Say your name and address for public record.
  2. Name of business
  3. Number of years you have been a chamber member. 
  4. What the chamber means to you and your business, or a success/support story.
1) Tell your story. Come and share your successes, positive business experiences, and business growth story. We would love for you to share your positive chamber story with commissioners, members, and the mayor. Did we help you with permitting, paperwork submissions, finding a business location, networking, connecting, selling, funding resources, or give business feedback and guidance? Come share what the Apopka Area Chamber of Commerce means to you. (4 min max)

2) The Apopka Area Chamber of Commerce building lease agreement with the City of Apopka expires in 2025. The chamber building sustained massive water damage from Hurricane Ian in September 2022. The building damage has forced staff and members out of the building due to the high mold and delays in remediation. Extensive damage to homes across Florida created insurance processing delays. The chamber has replaced the roof, removed mold and water damaged interior, and it is now time to rebuild. Due to the high cost to rebuild, coupled with the funds that have already been spent for roof replacement and remediation, the total chamber investment will reach over $300,000 by the time the rebuild is complete. This is why the chamber is requesting to secure a 30+-year lease from the city, prior to investing more. The chamber paid for the building addition that took place in the 90's too. Without the protection of a 10-year lease agreement with roll over renewal of 10 years to ensure the Chamber has a secure location for years to come, it does not make good business sense to commit to a large SBA Disaster loan to perform repairs for the "Act of God/Unavoidable Casualty" repairs on the city owned building, without a long-term lease in place.
Help us to secure the chamber location for generations to come. 

3) Apopka Building Apopka is an initiative that began January 2023. On February 16, 2024, the Apopka Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors voted in support of increasing local bid preference from 3% to 10% (with limitations) and creating a minority, and veterans bid preference policy.
Review the municode link as an example, which explains in detail the limitations that can be put in place to understand how this serves the business community in Apopka, Central Florida, and the State. If you support an increase to local bid preference and developing a bid preference for minority and veteran owned businesses, then we would love for you to join us on May 1.  Chapter 7 - PROCUREMENT CODE | Code of Ordinances | Orlando, FL | Municode Library

On June 5th

Charles Chambers, the Apopka Area Chamber Board Chair, and the Board sent the following letter to the Apopka City Council, reversing its request from May:

"Dear Apopka City Commissioners and Mayor Bryan Nelson,

Please find the notice to terminate the Apopka Area Chamber of Commerce property lease agreement located at 180 W Main Street, Apopka, FL 32703, due to unavoidable casualty caused by Hurricane damage. The board of directors has voted and approved by majority quorum vote on June 5, 2024, to discontinue the longstanding lease agreement that is set to expire in 2025. The building will be vacated and turned over to the City of Apopka on or before June 15, 2024.

We appreciate the long-term partnership and look forward to future events and celebrations in a new business location.

Apopka Area Chamber of Commerce
Board of Directors"

Although the action could have had a whiplash effect, Nesta and interim city administrator Chuck Vavrek continued working on the next steps rather than questioning the Chamber's reasoning.

What's the current condition of the interior of that building? Nesta asked Vavrek. "Do you know?"

"It's been remediated on the inside," Vavrek said. "We don't have any problems with mold. We're just gonna have to go in and do some interior cleanup. No matter what, it was going to happen that we'd have to go in and do some remodeling."

"That's definitely an important conversation to have to figure out," Nesta said. "Next steps, things like that. So we can work on that. I was surprised to get their letter when they had sent the previous letter. It said we still want to stay and now they don't. So conflicting demands there."

Editor's Note: The Apopka Voice contacted Chambers and Jeans Santiago, the Executive Director of Operations and Interim President, by email Thursday morning for comment, but neither responded by the time of publication.


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  • MamaMia

    Hmmm....but Reggie, toward the end of your article, you left out the rest of the story. The reason the Apopka Chamber Board of Directors changed their minds about staying, and then decided to vacate, was because of certain Apopka City Commissioners expressing their desire for the city to take the chamber building back, because certain commissioners wanted to have their own personal offices in there. I see you left the readers hanging, wondering why the chamber people changed their minds. They weren't going to spend thousands in repairs only to be shown the door, so certain commissioners could have their own personal offices! Nesta knows why they changed their minds, so quit playing games Nesta, like you don't understand.

    Saturday, June 8 Report this