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Daphne Taylor Street: Keep the tradition of sailing St. Pete alive for the whole community

St. Pete is definitely growing, and so is the demand for more access to the waterfront and its activities.

After more than 100-year history, providing sailing classes to the community — today, the St. Petersburg Sailing Center is known as a world-class operation, training some of the top competitive sailors in the world who have gone on to the Olympics and competed for the World’s Cup!

More than $3 million is generated for the city through regattas each year, and it attracts over 9,500 visitors.

Now, the Sailing Center is getting attention for something a little different — a city referendum, where they are requesting a 20-year lease renewal from the city in a referendum that is no cost to the City or taxpayers and would save an estimated $800,000 to the city in maintenance costs.

The sport of sailing and racing on our waterfront is a large part of fully experiencing our Tampa Bay area and the City of St. Petersburg.

The St. Petersburg Sailing Center is a decades-long partnership between the City of St. Petersburg and the St. Petersburg Yacht Club (SPYC), where the majority of the costs and operations are covered by the SPYC, which leases the land for the Sailing Center on Demens Landing from the city.

The Sailing Center is committed to continuously improving access to everyone who wants to learn the sport of sailing.

There are handicap-accessible docks and even adaptive sailing equipment for those with physical disabilities. They offer staff and equipment to a wounded veteran’s sailing program, and they offer many scholarships to students through the YMCA who would like to participate in summer and after school youth sailing programs.

Regina Cooper of the Harbordale YMCA said:

“The reaction from the kids is what makes me so grateful and almost brings tears to my eyes sometimes. They say, ‘Ooo, wow! This is amazing! It’s so relaxing!’ One of children said, ‘I like to feel and be included.’ This is something our children would never get to experience if it wasn’t for the generosity of the scholarships. They get to enjoy the waterfront and learn a sport like sailing just like anyone else.

“Our underprivileged youth experience sailing and go on this adventure. It makes them so happy, and they are so grateful. They love to point out the Sailing Center to their parents when they drive by saying, ‘Look! That’s where I go sailing!’ It’s an important way for our youth to feel included so that they know that the whole city is for them. They are not excluded — they are very much welcome and included here.”

Other partnerships with the Sailing Center include: Wounded Warrior Project; Soldier Ride; Warrior Sailing; 1D Sailing Academy; Northshore Pool Camp; the City of St. Petersburg Therapeutic Recreation Center; Cub Scout, Girl Scout and Boy Scout Merit Badges; several school sailing programs, and more.

While access expands, popularity grows, and growth seems to be a common theme throughout the city right now.

Take a good look around St. Petersburg, particularly near the waterfront, the downtown area and the Central Avenue stretch, and it’s impossible to ignore the giant growth spurt the city is experiencing.

From new high-rise construction, bars and eateries to museums, businesses and opportunities, St. Pete is definitely growing, and so is the demand for more access to the waterfront and its activities.

While the city is growing, the Sailing Center is currently stretched to capacity. Its classes are full, teaching kids as young as 5-years-old the basics of sailing to older kids and adults at various skill levels, including racing.

SPYC investments into the Sailing Center are a regular occurrence to ensure the Center has the resources it needs to remain a world-class resource for the sport of sailing.

Over the past five years, the Club has hired additional staff members, invested nearly $1 million in boats, equipment and facility upgrades, and has increased its outreach efforts to engage more of the community and increase accessibility to all of its programs. These investments, coupled with the remarkable growth of St. Petersburg, has led to an exponential surge in program participation.

To respond to this high demand, the Club is prepared to continue investing in the Sailing Center, ensuring a successful and fully-accessible Sailing Center for all.

In turn, the SPYC is requesting an extended 20-year lease renewal from the city so that the investments made by the Club will have time to be completed and used as intended by the community.

The proposed referendum is on the November ballot, and the Sailing Center is asking St. Pete residents to please go to the polls and “Vote Yes” for this referendum — something that benefits the city and the whole community while keeping the time-honored tradition of sailing St. Pete alive.

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Daphne Taylor Street is a St. Petersburg-based writer.

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