Florida To Lose 1941 Shuffleboard Courts
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Mar. 11, 2010
A 70-year-old shuffleboard court in Kissimmee, Fla., will be demolished this spring as part of the city's redevelopment of a 25-acre park.
"It's a shame because it's the only shuffle court around here," says Gerald Lemenager, one of 100 members of the Kissimmee Allstate Tourist Club, which meets there weekly. "It doesn't make any money, but it isn't supposed to make money. It's supposed to satisfy the senior citizens."
The city says the improved park will draw more people to the area. It plans to demolish the courts next month, according to Dan Loubier, director of the city's parks and recreation department. "The park will be open and available to all citizens and visitors without membership and since the pavilion will be open to all for any type of activity rather than shuffleboard only, yes, I believe our citizens and visitors will use the area more than it is being used today," he said in an e-mail. "The area is currently being used by approximately 80 members and is only used occasionally during the winter months for shuffleboard."
This month, Florida resident Rick Kilby launched a Facebook group, Save Our Shuffleboard, to raise awareness not only for the building but also for the sport.
"There are great facilities like this from all over the state that are in the same situation," Kilby says. "It's a great family game. So much attention was devoted to curling during the Olympics, and curling is just like shuffleboard on ice."
Nonetheless, it's too late to save the courts. Bulldozers are already on site, preparing for the $25 million makeover of Lakefront Park on Lake Tohopekaliga, a project that has been in the works for four years.
While the green courts will be destroyed, the open-air pavilion that houses them will remain as a picnic facility for Lakefront Park.
"There are times that public officials make decisions to enhance the quality of life of its citizens– this is one of them," said Mayor Jim Swan at the Feb. 20 groundbreaking ceremony. "It's been a long time coming. This is the crown jewel of our community that is being polished. It is the park for the people."
In 2006 the city's Parks and Recreation and Development Services Department held a series of public meetings about the park improvements, and about 300 people attended, according to the city's Web site. "No city project in my memory has had as much public input–and that's as it should be," Swan said in a statement.
Some shuffleboard club members attended those meetings, according to Lemanger, "but it didn't seem to accomplish too much."
In nearby St. Petersburg, however, locals got wind of the city's plans to develop their shuffleboard courts and decided to open the court to the public every a Friday night. "Shuffle Night" is now a popular event, and there are no plans to raze the court.
"It's unfortunate because if we had done what they did in St. Pete, we probably could have saved it," Kilby says.
Kissimmee's parks department has asked the shuffleboarders to leave by Mar. 17. Lemanger will play his last game on Friday.
"I'm still fighting it," he says. "I know it won't do much good, but I'm going to keep putting my two cents in."
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