Better Use of Punta Gorda Bayfront Center is Possible

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The city-owned Punta Gorda Bayfront Center, located on Charlotte Harbor adjacent to Gilchrist Park, is currently leased to the YMCA, but a competing lease proposal by the Charlotte Harbor Community Sailing Center would provide better utilization of this waterfront location, encouraging and promoting public enjoyment of our harbor for area residents.The YMCA has made very limited use of the water access that the facility provides, instead using it as a day-care center for kids and to generate income by renting out the facility to various community and church groups. The rental income is beneficial to the YMCA's other activities in the community, but little of it seems to return to the Bayfront Center. None of the YMCA's current activities require a waterfront location. They simply are not making good use of this public facility to promote recreational and educational use of Charlotte Harbor because that is not their primary mission.

 

The Charlotte Harbor Community Sailing Center is a tenant at the facility, sub-leasing some interior space from the YMCA and using the yard and boat ramp to conduct sailing classes for children and adults and to provide residents who do not live on the water with a place to store and use small boats. With the YMCA's lease up for renewal, the Sailing Center has offered the City of Punta Gorda a competing lease proposal. The Sailing Center's proposal is to continue current uses of the building and land, including those by the YMCA and other groups, but also to expand boating opportunities for sailors and other boaters by directing rental income back into its boating safety and sailing instruction programs and into improvement of the Bayfront Center facility. Please watch the video below, in which Sailing Center President Dennis Peck explains why he believes that awarding the lease to the Sailing Center would benefit our community.

As Dennis Peck explained, the Sailing Center was founded to promote sailing, but he believes that the Bayfront Center should be used by a range of small boats, including kayakers, stand-up paddle boarders, and powerboats that are small enough to launch manually at the small boat ramp. The Bayfront Center is an ideal place for all kinds of small boats to access the Harbor and it would be nice to see more use of the facility for boating-related purposes. The Sailing Center's proposal is to focus on public access to Charlotte Harbor.

 

The YMCA does a lot of good things in our community and others around the nation, but their primary mission is not to promote boating on Charlotte Harbor. Awarding the Bayfront Center lease to a non-profit organization that is primarily focused on recreational and educational use of Charlotte Harbor would benefit the public more simply because no one cares about local boating like local boaters. Awarding the lease to the Sailing Center would not significantly impact the YMCA, which could continue its limited use of the facility. As Dennis Peck pointed out, the main difference would come from directing money generated at the Bayfront Center exclusively back into the Bayfront Center facility and into development of more boating opportunities by the public.

 

For more on this topic, please read this article from the local Sun newspaper:

 

Groups Offer Two Visions for Bayfront Center

 

See also my account of helping out with one of the many Kids' Sailing Camps run by the Sailing Center to teach kids sailing and safe boating.

 

I completely agree with this letter sent to City Commissioner Dennis Murphy by local boater Roger Strube, who gave me permission to publish his thoughts here:
Dennis Murphy,

 

Re: Recommendation from the Bayfront Use Evaluation Committee

 

I was extremely disappointed with your recommendation that the City award the lease for the Bayfront Center to the YMCA rather than the Charlotte Harbor Community Sailing Center. Awarding the management of one of the few public, on shore assets, to an organization whose primary focus is not facilitating access to Charlotte Harbor by our citizens is not in the best interest of the public.

 

The YMCA has a long history as an important resource for the public it serves. However, the YMCA's primary mission is not to serve the boating public. I served on the Board of our local YMCA when my son and daughter were on their swim team. Kathy and I used the exercise facility and played racket ball on their courts. We participated in other YMCA sponsored events. Neither the land-locked facility back home nor the Bayfront facility, currently managed by the YMCA in Punta Gorda, have ever had a focus of providing small boat access to open water by the public.

 

The YMCA is not organized or administered to serve the boating public or facilitate public access to the water. Management of this public shore line facility by an organization without this primary focus will continue to impede public access and delay development of sailing and boating safety instruction for our youth, our adults and the disabled.

 

The Charlotte Harbor Community Sailing Center's primary mission is to facilitate public access, boating safety, sailing instruction and sailing event participation. The CHCSC is uniquely organized and at a rare location to fulfill this mission. The Bayfront facility offers a small, narrow ramp where folks may manually launch their small sailboats. More importantly, the Community Sailing Center owns a number of boats that are available for use by qualified folks who pay a minimum yearly membership dues. The leadership and "staff" are all highly qualified volunteers. Our citizens do not need to own a boat, have property on the water or join an expensive yacht club to have access to the water. Access to the Harbor, water safety training, sailing instruction, small boat racing events and even the boats needed for these activities, are available for minimal membership dues through the Charlotte Harbor Community Sailing Center.

 

I do not understand your committee's recommendation to continue YMCA management of this public facility. The assertion printed in the Sun-Herald that the YMCA was "...contemplating a sailing activity" is simply not believable and should be dismissed as a political distraction. The Community Sailing Center has a well developed "sailing activity" with experienced management, certified instructors and hard assets (boats). The CHCSC management team, serving as the board for the Bayfront facility could easily manage the present "more broad-ranging community based utilization." The bridge games and group meetings would continue; only the primary focus from a rental meeting facility to a waterfront activities center would change.

 

I am hopeful the City Council will make the proper decision regarding access to the Harbor and use of our public resources.

 

Roger H Strube, MD (retired)

 

There will be a public hearing on this matter on January 2, 2013 at 9:00 am and I hope to see many local boaters there!

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