Another winter season on Siesta Key has come and gone. The weather was great, but, then, it was pretty mild throughout most of the United States. Comments from various business owners on the Key suggest that this was a good year, especially for lodging and restaurants. In fact, many establishments said it was a record year for them, and some of that success is attributed to having been given the designation as the No. 1 Beach in the U.S. in 2011.
In addition to this good news, however, Siesta Key has been engulfed in some controversies that basically focus on the use (or more specifically, overuse) of alcohol, both in Siesta Key Village and on the public beach.
The most important and spirited and ongoing debate was born out of a tragic accident that occurred in January. Siesta Key resident, wife and mother Donna Chen, 53, was killed after being struck by a car driven by Blake Talman, 22, as she was jogging. It was reported that Talman had been at the public beach that day and, according to witnesses, was suspected to be intoxicated and in no condition to drive.
Everyone agrees that this was a horrible incident. However, there seems to be almost an even split among the residents of Siesta Key between those who want to create a law that bans alcohol consumption on the beach and those who want to leave it as it is.
Although I understand the arguments for both sides and favor a compromise, I continue to question the propriety of having an adult activity like the consumption of alcohol taking place where there are children present. This goes for both the public beach and in Siesta Key Village.
In addition to the Ban the Beer on the Beach movement this season, there has also been much consternation about the amount of noise coming from the bars and restaurants in the Village at night. Although the volume of the music streaming from some of the open-air bars has been a target for some of the nearby residents, the most egregious offenders are the actual patrons of these businesses.
I received a response to a column I wrote in April about this subject in which the woman stated that it is not the music that is the problem but the inebriated customers. This woman who lives near ground zero of the Village bar scene said that it is the yelling and swearing of the people that she finds most annoying and sometimes offensive. In effect, the Village has gone from being rated “G” to “PG-13” and sometimes “R,” depending on the crowd.
I realize that I have come across in my columns as critical of the way that Siesta Key, especially the Village, has developed over the last decade or so. But as I have said to my kids as they were growing up, “This criticism comes only from love. and I say it to help you be the best you can be.”
Despite my criticisms and concerns, I love Siesta Key. It has been my oasis since I was in high school back in the 1960s. From the first time I crossed the bridge on Siesta Drive and saw that glorious view of the water, the boats and downtown Sarasota, I have been looking forward to the day that I would call Siesta Key my home.
After my parents became seasonal residents of Siesta Key in the 1970s, my brother, sister, spouses and children became annual visitors. We all have wonderful memories of family reunions on the Key where we would hang out in the Village with our young kids at night after dinner and not worry about inappropriate language or behavior from patrons of a bar scene that was not nearly as expansive as it is today.
A few years ago, my wife and I purchased my parents’ condo and took their place as seasonal residents of Siesta Key. We now look forward to having our son, daughter and her family coming down to see us every year and establishing our own family traditions on the Key, especially with our granddaughter and any grandchildren who may come later.
Siesta Key is a special place with its beautiful beaches of cool white-powder sand and greenish-blue water. Having lived in and visited many of the coastal towns and villages in Florida, I have yet to find one I like better.
As my wife and I head up north for the summer, I am already thinking about the next season. In addition, I still look forward to the day that I will call Siesta Key not just my winter home but my home, period.
John Gudritz is the co-owner of an investment management firm. He and his wife have been coming to Siesta Key since the 1970s and have been property owners and seasonal residents since 2008.