The Encuentro Nacional of the Puerto Rican diaspora wasn’t the only news coming out of the Centro Borinqueño, the venue for the national gathering of Puerto Rican elected officials and others in east Orange County last week. In fact, there were many stories and one of them is the Centro Borinqueño itself.
The meeting, attended by 300 or so people, was a “coming out” of sorts for Acacia Network, which owns the Centro Borinqueño building, well known in Central Florida for its iconic sentry box reminiscent of the Spanish forts built in the Hispanic Caribbean and Latin America.
In 2014 New York-based Acacia Network, a social services nonprofit, bought the building’s $1 million bank note from Fifth Third Bank after the building had entered into foreclosure proceedings. The original owner was the Asociación Borinqueña, the oldest member-based Puerto Rican organization in the Orlando area. They constructed the building and then couldn’t keep up the payments or maintenance. Acacia states that it didn’t want the community to lose the building forever, so the group bought it at the urging of some company and local leaders.
After Acacia purchased the building – but before it took possession – the building was stripped of certain assets, including kitchen appliances/equipment and other items. (I toured the nearly empty building at the time.) Acacia officials joked that they were lucky the Amaury Díaz mural of Old San Juan was not taken down. (Actually, there had been a contentious discussion of it, according to sources.)
Since then, Acacia has poured “hundreds of thousands of dollars” into upgrades, according to Raúl Russi, CEO of Acacia. Improvements include resurfacing of the parking lot, new paint job inside and out, new stage, and new tables and chairs, among other things. And the kitchen? It’s expected to be finished by the start of the holidays, Russi said.
Acacia footed the bill for the Encuentro Nacional, not only providing the space but also the open bar and appetizers the night of the reception and the breakfast and lunch on the day of the symposium, which was organized by several groups. (Financial advisor Julio Rocha paid for the printing of the program.)
“This is your place. You built it. This is your center,” Russi told the gathering. “We want to make this a place where we can have safe discussions – with different opinions – but as Puerto Ricans,” he said.