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The Flamingo Resort, a fixture of St. Petersburg's gay nightlife for a decade, to close this month

The Flamingo Resort, a fixture of St. Petersburg’s gay nightlife for a decade, to close this month. [ANGELIQUE HERRING | Times]
The Flamingo Resort, a fixture of St. Petersburg’s gay nightlife for a decade, to close this month. [ANGELIQUE HERRING | Times]
Published Jul. 23, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — The kidney-shaped pool at the center of the Flamingo Resort was entirely empty and the sky was overcast on Tuesday afternoon, but that wasn't going to stop Cris Burlew from laying out in a pair of sunglasses and a bathing suit and enjoying the view while he still could.

"I'm trying to spend as much time here as I can this week," Burlew, an insurance claims examiner, said. "I'm going to miss it."

The Flamingo, an iconic destination and gathering place for St. Petersburg's gay community, will soon be torn down to make way for a new apartment complex, management announced Monday. Its last day of operations will be July 31.

City records show the resort's motel-style structure, featuring a swimming pool surrounded by balconies and a cabana bar, will be replaced with a new structure after it closes. The owners, Edge Partners LLC, were granted a permit from the city in June to begin developing a 215-unit building registered under the name Marina Walk Apartments.

Manager Jon Jusino announced that the resort was closing in a Facebook live video Monday. Jusino insisted that the Flamingo's owners will seek to purchase a new location elsewhere in the city to host a similar gay nightclub in the future, but was unable to provide specifics.

"They would be looking for a property that's very similar to this, and one that we can re-establish the Flamingo and the entertainment and everything we enjoy here," Jusino said.

Jusino declined to comment for this article. Owners Edward Fay and Jack Dougherty could not be immediately reached for comment.

The Flamingo will celebrate its last weekend with a series of events, beginning with a drag comedy showcase at 9 p.m. on Friday, according to its Facebook page.

When it was founded in August 2009, the Flamingo was quickly embraced by St. Petersburg's LGBTQ community, which was eager for a large-scale nightlife venue. The Flamingo filled a void left by the Suncoast Resort, one of the first establishments in St. Petersburg geared toward gay people that had closed in 2007.

"When the Suncoast Resort closed, everyone dispersed, and then the Flamingo brought everyone back," said Brian Longstreth, co-founder of St. Pete Pride and owner of Punky's Bar and Grill.

RELATED COVERAGE: Flamingo Resort is the latest place to see a play

Neighbors also credited the Flamingo with freshening up a part of their waterfront community. At the time it opened, the resort replaced an abandoned hotel that had become an eyesore and a haven for drugs.

"That place was a dump," Broadwater Civic Association president Tom Ando told the then-St. Petersburg Times in 2009. "We're lucky that (the Flamingo) came in."

For a decade, the Flamingo hosted musical acts, leather conventions, and drag shows, featuring performances by Vanessa Vanjie Mateo of Tampa, and Alexis Mateo of Orlando, both of whom were featured on seasons of RuPaul's Drag Race on Logo and VH1. It drew LGBTQ vacationers from across the state who heralded it as a unique cultural hub in the area.

Kathy Vesely, a St. Petersburg retiree, said she first started attending the Flamingo's weekly Sunday tea dances 10 years ago. At the time, she was still living in Citrus County and would drive over an hour every week to attend.

"It was a real home space and it was fun, it was energizing. Every week there were lots of people and lots of alcohol, of course. It's where I met my friends," Vesely said, choking up as she spoke. "I don't think there's anything around quite like it."

Vesely said she even moved into the resort for several months while she was looking for a long-term home in St. Petersburg. But as the real estate market in the Skyway Marina District has flourished in recent years, Vesely said she and other Flamingo regulars anticipated that the resort might not last long.

"We all knew in our hearts that this was coming because the area's so ripe for development," Vesely said. "It felt like being part of a family, and that's what I'll miss."

Contact Aaron Holmes at aholmes@tampabay.com or (706) 347-1880. Follow @aaronpholmes.

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