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Shuffleboard Club damage trims New Port Richey's net

By JENNIFER GOLDBLATT

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 7, 2001


NEW PORT RICHEY -- New Port Richey will get about $7,000 less on its sale of the former Shuffleboard Club because of damage done to the property after the previous tenants moved out.

The Shuffleboard & Tourist Club had been renting the prime, downtown city-owned property for $10 a month for more than 50 years. After a bitter series of meetings last year, the city agreed to declare the property surplus, raised the club's rent to $100 a month and in February agreed to sell it to chiropractor Dr. Laura Kinkead for $200,000.

But before the deal closed, the building was stripped of its fixtures. Police questioned some officers of the Shuffleboard Club. After a week of questioning, according to a New Port Richey police report, it was revealed that club members were told that they could take everything that wasn't bolted down. Conflicting stories were given, and some club officers disputed the accuracy of the police report.

Kinkead's contractor estimated that the cost to replace the damaged goods -- which includes $3,900 to replace the aluminum canopy over the shuffleboard courts -- totals $14,607. The city and Kinkead ultimately negotiated a $193,000 sale price. The City Council voted to accept the offer Tuesday night.

But the vote wasn't the end. On Wednesday, police were called to the building, where two men had been found taking things out of the building by council member Tom Finn. A police report on the incident wasn't available Wednesday night.

Under state law, anything permanently affixed to a property becomes possession of the property owner. Theft of property valued at at least $300 is considered grand theft and a third-degree felony, and punishable by up to five years in prison.

Council members interviewed Wednesday said they thought someone should be held accountable. But only Finn indicated that he would be willing to press charges. Even if the club is now insolvent, "I think the club's constitutional officers should be liable," Finn said. "It was a travesty what they did. I would encourage pressing charges. The city extended that space to them for more than 50 years and when it came to the end, look what they did to us."

Others said legal action wasn't worth pursuing.

"This would be a no-win situation, and there's not a whole lot to be gained," said council member Ginny Miller.

Mayor Wendy Brenner agreed. "I don't know that holding the individuals that we're able to identify responsible for the actions of everyone else is the right thing to do," she said.

Susan Clark suggested that a fine might do. "What they did was absolutely ridiculous," she said. "They're adults, they're not kids and they knew better. I'm sure they'll never do it again but we lost some money on it, too. Somebody should be held accountable."

Deputy Mayor Scott Chittum added: "I just don't think that it warrants (pressing charges) -- I don't think that there's any real hope of recovery."

- Jennifer Goldblatt covers business in Pasco County. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6229 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6229.

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