Shuffleboard nonprofit urges city not to privatize facilities

06/21/11 Kate Bradshaw
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In recent years, shuffleboard has seen a revival. The activity, once associated with Florida retirees, now attracts people of all ages and stripes. When the weather’s right, a shuffleboard complex at Downtown St. Pete’s Mirror Lake park brings in some sizable crowds – everyone from hipsters to families with young children – when it opens up its courts to the public for free on Friday nights. But a recent proposal might change that. Chris Kelly is Vice President of the nonprofit St. Pete Shuffleboard Club, which operates out of a building on the city-owned property, and runs the shuffleboard courts.

The city currently spends about $20,000 annually to maintain the complex, and wants to spend another $1.4 million on renovations regardless of who is leasing the buildings. Kelly said the club, which is some 87 years old, operates out of the clubhouse, a building club members paid to have built in 1927. St. Pete Shuffle, as it’s known casually, hosts numerous events in addition to its Friday night events, including potlucks, craft bizarre, and live local music performances. He said St. Petersburg owns the entire complex, and that the club and several other nonprofits lease their space from the city.

Community and Leisure Services Administrator Clarence Scott said the idea to lease two buildings on the complex to private food and beverage vendors stems from public meetings that took place in 2007.

He said there’s never been any talk of squeezing out St. Pete Shuffle.

He added that the city would likely let the club use another building on the property if a restaurant were to displace them from where the club is currently headquartered.

Members of St. Pete Shuffle say they’re frustrated that the city hasn’t brought them into the discussion. Kelly said bringing a private company into the complex would deal a symbolic blow to the organization.

Scott said the city still needs to figure out how it would pay for renovations to the facility, which would include installing air conditioning. St. Pete Shuffle president Christine Page said she hopes members of the public will tell the city council they don’t think the renovations should be a priority at tomorrow’s city budget summit.

That meeting takes place at Lake Vista Recreation Center at 1401 62nd Avenue South in St. Petersburg. It’s the final of three public meetings to help the city figure out how to best deal with a $12 million budget gap.

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