First opened in 1917, the St. Petersburg Yacht Club’s downtown facility has served as a waterfront landmark for over a century; however, father time and mother nature have caught up to the historic building.
Brian K. Smith, club president, notified members of the impending demolition and redevelopment project in a letter Tuesday. The decision stems from a “well-qualified” architectural firm’s study and over 20 focus group sessions.
Participants listed their desired improvements for the building at 11 Central Avenue, which officials determined were cost-prohibitive. In addition, the letter states the need for an elevator, roof, tiki and pool deck replacement, electrical repairs and an updated kitchen.
“It became evident that remodeling of the clubhouse to accommodate all of the changes desired by the membership would simply not be practical,” Smith wrote. “But most importantly, we would end up with a remodeled building which would not comply with current FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) standards.”
Smith explained that the building’s floor elevation is six feet below current FEMA regulations, and the waterfront mainstay is no stranger to storms. Club archives state that the “Great Hurricane of October 1921” caused extensive flooding four years after the building opened.
Despite the damage, membership continued increasing, and the organization extended the clubhouse north. The expanded facility formally opened in December 1922.
Just under a century later, Hurricane Ian highlighted the need for more resilient Yacht Club infrastructure.
As rear commodore, Joe DeVito is the organization’s third in command. Officials nominated him to serve as the project’s spokesperson.
He told the Catalyst that club leadership began developing a long-term master plan before Ian hit Southwest Florida in late September 2022 “and devasted several yacht clubs – just like ours.”
“Those clubs were wiped out,” DeVito added. “So, we started looking at planning.”
FEMA regulations mandate a complete replacement if a flood or hurricane causes damage exceeding 50% of the facility’s value. According to the agency, that is $1.5 million.
“And it wasn’t practical to put probably $10 to $15 million into an old building and still be six feet below FEMA limits,” DeVito said.
According to a Master Facilities Planning Committee motion, “major infrastructure components of the clubhouse have reached or are reaching the end of life and required substantial cost.” The Yacht Club will now create another committee to oversee planning for a new downtown facility, in compliance with federal requirements.
DeVito said they would also design the new building according to member feedback. He said they understand the situation and leadership’s hesitation to spend millions of other people’s money on something that “could get destroyed by a hurricane.”
“We’ve been very lucky for 100 years,” DeVito said. “We want to build a new building that solves the deficiencies and gives us what we want. And puts us in good shape for the next 100 years.”
He relayed that club officials “are very conscientious of preserving our history” and plan to keep the same Mediterranean-style design. DeVito also explained that an elevated building would provide desperately needed additional parking space.
The organization’s board of directors unanimously approved the initiative, and construction will begin in five years. In his letter, Smith called it “a critical step for the future of our club, assuring our members are safe and (a) state of the art facility for the next generation.”
“An important component of the plan is to secure a temporary location to serve our members during the construction period,” he added. “It is also anticipated that the hours of operation of the Pass-A-Grille location will be maximized during this time frame.”
That facility, located at 2301 Pass a Grille Way in St. Pete Beach, closes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. It also opens later than the downtown location and closes earlier on Friday and Saturday nights.
Smith expects construction to take two years.
He told members that redevelopment funding would come from new initiation fees and a capital contribution charge implemented in January. He also anticipates increasing monthly dues from $50 to $125 at the beginning of fiscal year 2024-25.
The planning committee’s motion states that “the club does not have the funds to undertake a major remodel or rebuild without a substantial assessment, which will burden many members.” The plan is to raise 50% of the estimated cost before construction commences and finance the balance.
The motion also notes that the House and Grounds Committee will complete any maintenance and repairs “found to be reasonable and necessary” to keep the building code compliant and safe and to ensure quality member experiences. Smith called the long-term initiative “an efficient and risk-assessed endeavor.”
“Our most important goal is to be open and communicative throughout the duration of this project,” he concluded.