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    Beach leaders rally around YMCA idea

    With more families settling on the beach, interest grows in establishing a YMCA there. Much will depend on community response.

    By DEBORAH O'NEIL

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 22, 2001


    If she doesn't get stuck waiting for the bridge, it takes Vicki Hawhee 15 to 20 minutes to get her daughter from their Indian Rocks Beach home to dance class at the Largo Community Center.

    There are few options when it comes to organized youth activities on the beaches of mid and north Pinellas County. For Hawhee, keeping her 8-year-old and 4-year-old involved means driving to Largo or Seminole.

    "You only have so many hours in the day," Hawhee said. "I have to limit their activities because of the distance."

    Parents like Hawhee, who more and more are settling in the beach towns, are fueling a growing interest in establishing a YMCA there that would provide wellness and youth programs for families from Sand Key to the Redingtons as well as coastal communities like Belleair.

    Community leaders and officials at the YMCA of the Suncoast are rallying behind the idea.

    "We need it here," Indian Rocks Beach Mayor Bob DiNicola said. "I've been talking to the other mayors for support. . . . I think it is going to proceed."

    The YMCA of the Suncoast will begin offering programs this fall in public and church facilities up and down the beaches, said G. Scott Goyer, president and chief executive officer.

    If the programs prove popular enough and the communities support the creation of a centralized YMCA facility, a fundraising effort will begin for a new building, most likely in Indian Rocks Beach. The timetable depends on the community's response, Goyer said.

    What is clear, however, is that for the YMCA to work on the beaches it will need widespread support. Successful YMCAs typically are established in areas with at least 15,000 residents, which means the effort will need more than just Indian Rocks Beach.

    "We do realize for an organization to be successful, it's going to have to involve the entire beach community," Goyer said. "It will take the entire community to support the YMCA."

    Belleair Shore Mayor John Robertson said he thinks establishing a YMCA is a good idea. He too, has noticed the growing number of young families on the beaches.

    "It's a good location for it," he said. "It's on the beach so we don't have to cross over."

    On Sand Key, there are many more retirees than children. Still, Kevin Teismann, president of the Sand Key Civic Association, said a beaches YMCA might draw some residents if it offered tennis or swimming.

    "I have friends who play tennis and although they might even have courts in the development, there is an interest in having a common meeting place where they can go and play tennis and meet people," Teismann said.

    This summer, Goyer said, the YMCA will decide what type of programs are wanted and where they can be held. Already, the YMCA runs a successful summer camp program at the Indian Rocks Beach city auditorium that draws 60 to 70 children from the beach communities.

    Establishing a new building would be a major effort. Goyer said each YMCA is different and the cost depends on the size. The most recently completed YMCA in the area, the 35,000-square-foot James P. Gills YMCA in New Port Richey, cost $5.5-million. The East Lake YMCA, at 17,000 square feet, was built using an existing pool and tennis club and cost about $1.5-million.

    Regardless of cost, Hawhee said there are lots of families like hers that would welcome a YMCA center where the entire family could spend time.

    "I'd like to take aerobics or kickboxing, where there is no time to do that now," Hawhee said. "If there were programs out here, you'd have a wide range of participants."

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