Friday, March 12, 2010

A few shuffles left

Since my last post on Kissimmee's KAST club's shuffleboard courts, much has happened but the outcome still seems to be the same, the clubs's last day on the property is to be March 17th.

First I was contacted by a member of St. Pete's shuffleboard club, who reached out to KAST Club's president Dot Clark and got this response:

"Thank you for thinking of the KAST Club. Although the building and courts and cover are going to be demolished, the members voted to keep the club together. We're not able to say where we will meet, but hope and pray that something will turn up. Our new officers are being installed during the meeting at this time... Our club was declining in numbers and that didn't help us at all. In spite of the city situation and progress they have made, we have one member who is still fighting the city and doing all he can. Just a shame he didn't start a few years ago."

Chris from the St. Pete club, shared this with Dot, about how a group of individuals got together to preserve the Shuffleboard courts in his city:

"In 2005, when it was becoming clear that the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club property was being viewed by City 'leaders' as a development site (library, college, etc), a group of us got together. It was clear to us that the seniors at the St. Pete Club weren't able to put together a campaign to counter a proposal and frankly, with the Club size as it was, there was little chance that the City would listen.

We decided that rather than wait until the proposal came (and then laying down in front of bulldozers) we would proactively invite the community to visit and to use the facility for its intended purpose. A group of friends (artists, neighborhood activists), all in our thirties and forties sat at my dining table one Saturday and we put together every idea for public events that we could think of (art shows, concerts, food, barbeque, Fourth of July, glow in the dark shuffle, etc.) and then voted on which ideas were common priorities to try out.

It turned out that the one idea that everyone wanted to put energy into was to open the Club to the public from 6-10 (we now run 7-11), every Friday night. We call the event the St. Pete Shuffle and it has brought thousands of people, (St. Pete residents and visitors, tourists and families,) to the Club, has fed us new memberships, volunteers and publicity. Shuffle has been covered in the
NY Times, Washington Post, Southern Living Magazine and lots of other media outlets.

We've done all those other ideas as well, and repeat some of them regularly. They allowed us to forge friendships with arts groups, restaurants, scout troops, a Folk Fair society, old car buffs and more.

As a result of those efforts and outreach, at some point in 2008 City of St. Petersburg 'leaders' realized that the best use of the Shuffleboard Club was... as a shuffleboard club. By this time, if a redevelopment proposal was forthcoming, the Club was in a much stronger position to respond, negotiate or raise a ruckus. Instead, the City budgeted $750,000 to take care of long deferred maintenance issues and restore the buildings last year. In November 2009 we had a formal reopening celebration.... all as a result of our Friday night 'Shuffle'.

I don't know if there's much time left to try something similar in Kissimmee, or if your members, neighbors and the surrounding community want to. It would take much the same collaboration
as worked here, with Shufflers, Historic Preservationists, Artists, Neighbors and creative folks all needing to be identified quickly. If they do, I'd be glad to discuss the idea further....Florida was blessed in the last century to have residents who, together, built wonderful recreation facilities. I hope the residents in this century begin to value those grounds appropriately."

Dot responded that it was too late and that only one member was still fighting what now seems inevitable. Yesterday the National Trust for Historic Preservation did a story on its website about the loss of the courts and quoted KAST club member Gerald Lemenager stating "I'm still fighting it ... I know it won't do much good, but I'm going to keep putting my two cents in."

It's a shame we didn't know about this sooner, as we might have made a difference. Still there are great shuffleboard facilities around the state sitting vacant. Perhaps it is time for the magic of the St. Pete Shuffle to spread to other cities. Can we spark a renaissance of the game that so many enjoyed throughout the last century in the Sunshine State?

1 comment:

  1. I want to go to a Shuffle! What a fabulously proactive and inspiring story, and so important to get folks of all ages together to save something like this. Sometimes it seems like we all have so many resources at our hands to entertain ourselves individually at home (DVD, WII, Big Screen TVs, computers) that we miss out on the interaction in the real world with folks going out and having fun. That makes all the difference and really gives a feeling of connectedness and community. Sad for Kissimmee but I'm inspired by St. Pete for sure!