Surfers for Autism to leave Treasure Island for St. Pete Beach

TREASURE ISLAND — A 3-year-old beach fundraising event is moving from its home in Treasure Island to St. Pete Beach after organizers said they have run into too many roadblocks and not enough support.

Surfers for Autism, a nonprofit group that teaches special-needs kids to surf, is holding this year's event — which draws upward of 200 people — in July in Pass-a-Grille, breaking its three-year stint in Treasure Island.

"We don't have the support here," Don Ryan, president of the organization, told city commissioners recently. "We love this beach, but we are postponing registration."

City staffers had recommended that the surfing event be held at the city's Gulf Front Park on July 12, but commissioners were surprised last week when Ryan told them he was moving the fundraiser's location.

A recommendation by recreation director Cathy Hayduke to hold the event came with 11 detailed stipulations, which included a required Department of Environmental Protection permit and state approval for having vehicle traffic on the beach.

Treasure Island has come under increased scrutiny by the state for its beachfront activities since a lawsuit was filed against the city and state by three hotel owners who contend that parking, driving and carnival-type events on the beach are destroying the natural habitat and affecting their businesses.

Ryan said he has had cooperation problems with city officials and local businesses in the past. He said he was criticized one year for booking rooms in Indian Rocks Beach while holding the event in Treasure Island.

"But no hotels locally will talk to me," he said. "Most places we go, people are more than welcoming and want to help. The therapeutic benefits from this event for kids with autism is unbelievable."

He said he also has had problems with getting support from the police and fire departments in Treasure Island.

Surfers for Autism holds annual fundraisers across the state, from Stuart and New Smyrna Beach to Cocoa Beach and Flagler Beach.

Commissioner Alan Bildz defended the city staff, which he says "bends over backward" to set up beach events. He criticized Ryan, who he said "came out of left field" with his complaints, for not sitting down with the city staff to discuss his concerns.

Bildz does think the city is being more cautious in approving activities that require vehicles on the beachfront but said it has not shied away from going ahead with permitted activities.

Mayor Robert Minning agreed and said the requested stipulations for the Surfers for Autism were not "significantly different" than last year.

"We are very sorry we will lose those visitors to the city, but that is his (Ryan's) decision," Minning said.

Surfers for Autism to leave Treasure Island for St. Pete Beach 05/29/14 [Last modified: Thursday, May 29, 2014 1:49pm]

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