Ed Chiles doesn’t live on Longboat Key, but he worries about its future — a lot.
Walking down Pine Street in Anna Maria, where he has lived for more than 30 years, you can see why Chiles is worried.
Pine Street, which is the heart and soul of the tiny town’s business district, is in the middle of a business revitalization because of Chiles’ efforts to keep a healthy balance of businesses and residents.
Anna Maria residents walk down the street, buy coffee and tea at a local coffee shop and browse clothing boutiques and antique stores.
Chiles is quick to point out that Anna Maria is different from Longboat Key.
“The city of Anna Maria is a village in the sense that Longbeach Village is a village within the town of Longboat Key,” Chiles said. “There’s things to do and people talk to each other.”
But Chiles — owner and operator of the Ed Chiles Group, which owns Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant & Pub on Longboat Key and The Beachhouse and The Sandbar restaurants on Anna Maria Island — truly believes that Longboat Key needs to start taking on some attributes of Anna Maria. And fast.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Chiles says while sitting in his Anna Maria office. “Longboat Key is spectacular. But it’s gated and there’s still a sense that outsiders are not wanted there.”
Longboat Key, Chiles believes, needs a stronger business community. And he believes the majority of the voters want it, as well.
“There is a group, which is a minority, that sometimes speaks with a louder voice that is not concerned about the business community,” Chiles said. “They are more concerned with no traffic. But the majority of folks want oxygen in the bloodstream and want vitality.”
Chiles is so worried about the vitality of Longboat Key, in fact, that he donated $500 each to both the campaigns of pro-business commissioners David Brenner and Lynn Larson in last year’s election.
But Chiles says Longboat Key still has a long road ahead of it.
“We haven’t seen any major moves on Longboat Key in 40 years,” Chiles said.
Although Chiles is excited about the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s Islandside renovation-and-expansion project, the pending lawsuits with an opposing group, along with the closing of The Colony Beach & Tennis Resort, worries him.
“The town can’t afford to lose any more condos to $10 million homes,” Chiles said. “You don’t have enough of the Mar Vistas and other restaurants and shopping.”
But Chiles said there is much to be optimistic about on Longboat Key.
“I am optimistic about the new owner of Whitney Beach Plaza, and I feel that plaza can survive with the right tenants,” Chiles said. “I am also confident that Publix will have some great ideas for Avenue of the Flowers when the time is right.”
But for places such as Whitney Beach Plaza and Avenue of the Flowers to prosper, Chiles believes the town needs more flexibility with its zoning and its codes.
“It’s a very laborious process to get something done on Longboat Key,” said Chiles, who has been working for more than a year with town staff to add a second story to Mar Vista. That project is still one to two years away from fruition. “We have to find a way to make the process better while still preserving what’s necessary to protect the town.”
Out of the three cities Chiles does business in, he says Longboat Key has the most codes and is the most restrictive.
Despite its shortcomings, Chiles truly believes Longboat Key’s best days are ahead.
“When inertia is there for Longboat like it is now, that underlying foundation is incredibly valuable,” Chiles said.
Occupation: Owner of Chiles Group Inc.
Hometown: Lakeland (full-time Anna Maria resident since 1978.)
Hobbies: Fly-fishing, hunting and kayaking
Passion: Chiles is passionate about his three restaurants and preserving the business districts in Anna Maria and Longboat Key.
Interesting fact: Chiles is a cross-country and downhill skier.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at firstname.lastname@example.org