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The City of Eustis wants to tear down its existing community center and replace it with a 56,000-square-foot, 3-story Eustis Sailing & Conference Center on Northshore Drive downtown.

The City Commission on Aug. 20 authorized staff to proceed with the proposal in a partnership with the Lake Eustis Sailing Club, the Lake Eustis Youth Sailing Foundation and the U.S. Sailing Association.

But the project hinges on some significant funding variables – namely, whether voters will agree to foot the majority of the city’s portion of the bill in a March 2020 referendum and how much the city can get from the state and Lake County.

The new, $16.35-million Eustis Sailing & Conference Center would replace the existing community center at 601 Northshore Drive.
The new, $16.35-million Eustis Sailing & Conference Center would replace the existing community center at 601 Northshore Drive.

The structure is estimated to cost roughly $16.35 million. Eustis spokeswoman Kristina Rosenburg told GrowthSpotter that would be covered by about $3 million from current city reserves, $3.5 million in Lake County Tourism Development Tax capital funding, and $10 million in bonds authorized by voters, totaling $16.5 million to provide a bit of design flexibility.

The city would also pursue federal and state grants as well as private-sector funding, she said.

If the referendum were to fail, the City Commission would have to determine how to move forward, whether that would be to modify the proposal or walk away from it altogether, Rosenburg said.

The referendum will also allow development and expanded programs at Carver Park.

Eustis was considered a citrus capital until the freezes of the 1980s. But sailing has also been a part of the fabric of the city, starting in 1953 when the Eustis Marine Club evolved into the Lake Eustis Sailing Club. In 1971, the club held its first sailboat regatta, later known as the George Washington Birthday Regatta.

The Lake Eustis Sailing Club is currently a respected brand and presence in the U.S. sailing community, the city said in a news release. The Sailing & Conference Center will help the club make sailing accessible to everyone, the release said.

“Lake Eustis is a special place for sailing,” said John Pearl, president of the Youth Sailing Foundation. “The community sailing program will offer everyone the ability to access this experience, providing sailboats, quality sailing instruction and the opportunity to get out on the water.”

The structure would also provide a venue for additional events such as weddings, conferences and e-gaming tournaments. It would have advanced technology allowing for cutting-edge engagement between activities on the water and spectators on shore, providing a competitive advantage over other sailing venues in the United States.

“The favorable sailing conditions on beautiful Lake Eustis have created a unique partnership (with the sailing organizations),” said Mayor Michael Holland. “We now have the ability to brand our city as the premier inland sailing city in the country.”

The city has been taking smaller steps to spruce up its downtown waterfront, making improvements to Ferran Park, improving traffic flow and landscaping and adding a splash park.

But a developer’s deal to buy a mobile home park and convert the property into a 7-acre Key West-style residential development along Lakeshore Drive fell through last August.

A busy Sailing & Conference center would “act as a catalyst to support new growth in downtown Eustis and the Eustis community as a whole,” said City Manager Ron Neibert. “The thousands of future visitors will support the development of additional commercial entities, in particular, the desire of a new hotel development in Eustis.”

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