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St. Pete's Mirror Lake Complex gets new life

ST. PETERSBURG — The historic Mirror Lake Complex seemed headed for eventual demolition a year ago.

The wooden grandstand was rotting. Exposed wires snaked across the property. Bathroom windows were left cracked in a spiderweb of disrepair.

It got so bad, the city cited itself for multiple code violations in March. Historic preservationists complained of willful neglect.

And then something happened.

City Hall found the money to fix the long-overlooked recreation center.

Last week, city officials celebrated the nearly $700,000 renovation project with a grand reopening as the sprawling complex sat abuzz with families, visitors and community activists playing bocce ball, shuffleboard, lawn bowling, horseshoes and croquet.

It was the first of what City Hall hopes will be many monthly recreation nights.

After years of begging the city to do something about the deteriorating property, preservationists said they couldn't be more happy with City Hall's sudden interest in the complex.

"It is very exciting to see it come alive again," said Audrey Shane, president of the St. Petersburg Lawn Bowling Club. "When a place is so deteriorated, I personally would turn away from it. But if it is prosperous and looks clean and all that, you are more likely to join a club that meets there."

Chris Kelly, founder of St. Pete Shuffle, said families and groups used to turn down invitations to the weekly Friday night event because they worried the building wasn't child friendly or safe.

Now, he said, "Mirror Lake again is going to be a major hub in St. Petersburg."

Founded in 1923, the Mirror Lake Complex is home to the nation's oldest and largest shuffleboard club.

For years, private membership groups maintained the clubhouses bordering the property.

But as lawn bowling and shuffleboard became less popular, so did the complex. As club membership dwindled, the complex's maintenance fell to the wayside.

City officials first reported multiple code violations at the public property in January. The long list of infractions included: chipping and peeling paint throughout the structure, rotted window frames and siding, excessive rust on the bleachers, large settlement cracks, exposed wires and electrical outlets and improperly boarded windows.

After the St. Petersburg Times reported the violations, Mayor Rick Baker convened a group of city workers and residents to restore the complex. Money was routed from other pending city projects, said Jay Morgan, the city's leisure services manager.

"The city had to beg, borrow and steal . . . to get the $600,000 to fund this property," joked Morgan. "We actually accomplished some amazing results in a very short period of time."

Close attention was paid to restoring the property's historic details. Workers restored and repainted the historic sign fronting the property in its original colors. Damaged windows were replaced with the same cypress wood and period glass used during the original construction.

Other safety and aesthetic improvements were made.

Storage items were removed from the shuffleboard clubhouse, and new furniture and framed art was brought in.

The effort involved more than 17 private contractors and at least seven city departments. Volunteers held painting and cleaning events.

"It was everybody pulling together," said Morgan. "There were people here cleaning the windows until the last minute."

If you go

St. Pete Shuffle

Every Friday from 7 to 11 p.m. at the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Courts, 559 Mirror Lake Drive. For more information, go to www.stpeteshuffle.com.

By the numbers

A look at some of the city's restoration expenses:

$6,000 temporarily covered a broken terrazzo court with wood decking

$5,800 restored the shuffleboard club sign fronting the property

$19,500 repaired concrete walkways

$133,000 window and door restoration

$12,960 new fencing and gates

$46,560 lead paint removal and new painting

$24,800 renovation of shuffleboard courts

$50,000 renovation of club grandstands

$500 restoration of shuffleboard tournament booth

$1,000 bench repairs

$17,500 renovation of bowl testing building

$5,400 restoration of outdoor covered walkway

$18,400 creation of green lawn

Source: City of St. Petersburg construction estimates

St. Pete's Mirror Lake Complex gets new life 11/25/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 25, 2009 9:33pm]
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