On Tuesday, November 17 Gulfport City Council will discuss the future of the Boca Ciega Yacht Club. For 13 years the BCYC has leased land located in Gulfport’s Marina district for $1 a year.
The City of Gulfport provides 56 wet slips and 50 dry storage slips for the exclusive use of BCYC, which the club leases out to members and non-members for a monthly or quarterly fee.
The lease expires this December.
In the last couple of years, BCYC has faced complaints and at least one legal challenge from former members alleging discrimination.
According to legal documentation provided by the City of Gulfport, on December 23, 2018, former BCYC member and Gulfport resident Samantha Ring received a written reprimand from former BCYC Commodore Larry Brown for being in the clubhouse with her service animal; Ring was subsequently expelled from the club March 14, 2019.
While Ring provided medical documentation supporting her need for a service animal, arguments arose about whether BCYC is exempt from ADA compliance as a private club. Ring filed a lawsuit against the club in April 2019.
The Pinellas County Office of Human Rights issued a report on June 5, 2019 that the BCYC was indeed bound by the rules of the city and all ADA compliance ordinances.
However the court ultimately ruled in favor of BCYC, stating that as a private club, BCYC did not need to accommodate the public. Ring has filed to appeal the court’s decision.
At both of October’s city council meetings, residents and BCYC representatives called in during public comment to address concerns of bullying and discrimination at the club.
BCYC Rear Commodore Jennifer Buckley responded directly to claims of bullying and discrimination, saying that the actions of BCYC members and leadership were in line with the club bylaws. BCYC did not respond to the Gabber’s requests for comments on this story.
However, with the BCYC lease up in December, some are focused on the future potential of the waterfront property. On Tuesday, October 20 resident Maureen McCormick submitted a letter to be read during public comment on the opportunity to redevelop the land.
“My comment addresses the missed opportunity in Gulfport for adding a revenue stream that would not only help the city financially but would also provide an added venue for the city’s tourism and businesses,” wrote McCormick.
Possible development and claims of discrimination aren’t the only challenges BCYC faces. The existing clubhouse is also in need of renovation.
“It’s my understanding from conversations with city staff that the cost to perform meaningful renovations would exceed the cost to build something comparable,” Mayor Sam Henderson told the Gabber. “There are also legal limitations on how much you can spend on a renovation in relation to the assessed value of an existing structure.”
Henderson seems to favor developing the property.
“The bottom line for me is that this is city property and I want to expand access to the public in the near future,” said Henderson.
According to Gulfport City Manager Jim O’Reilly the city did draft preliminary plans for alternative land uses a few years ago.
“Nothing has been decided or discussed further until councilmembers discuss lease options during the next city council meeting on November 17,” said O’Reilly.
Council reconvenes November 17 at Gulfport City Hall, 2401 53rd St. S. at 6 p.m.