Siesta Key Village has changed over the last 12 years, and not in a way that I would have anticipated or chosen.
While the recent facelift it was given has significantly improved its appearance, the Village’s character at night no longer reflects the interests of the majority of the homeowners or of the young families who vacation here. Every night, the Village becomes “party central” for the 20-something crowd of the greater Sarasota area. As a seasonal resident with a 35-year history of vacationing with my family on Siesta Key, I wonder why this was allowed to happen.
The Village does still retain a great deal of its beachside charm during the day, with the help of some of the long-time shops and restaurants. Four generations of my family members have been loyal customers to a number of these. There have also been welcome retail additions to Ocean Boulevard in recent years.
My objection to the transformation of the Village since the late 1990s is not that many new bars have opened or that music streams from one end of the Village to the other. I like contemporary music, and my wife and I enjoy going out. A cool, nightlife bar-and-restaurant scene in the Village, with a variety of menu choices and prices, as Southside Village and downtown Sarasota have, would be great.
Unfortunately, the Village doesn’t offer us a similar selection. Instead, we get a limited choice of establishments that cater more to drinkers than to diners and to a particular demographic that is closer to our children’s and grandchildren’s ages than our own. The owners of these businesses obviously don’t see a need to accommodate the full-time and seasonal residents on Siesta Key, and I guess the officials who oversee the business development in the Village agree with that strategic plan.
According to the 2010 Census, the median age in households on Siesta Key is 62.7 years, and 63.5% of the people living on the Key are 55 years old and older. The 20- to 34-year-old generation represents a whopping 5.7% of the population. About 44% of the residents have a college education, and the median household income is about $70,000. So why has this community been allowed to become a playground for a totally different generation of people who don’t live here and are much younger?
I can think of one possible reason.
As a businessman, I understand the importance to a community of attracting and keeping younger generations. That is necessary if an area is to regenerate and grow. To accomplish that effort, the community must provide the services young people want.
Sarasota County commissioners have been aware for a while of the need to get younger people to move to or stay in Sarasota and the surrounding area. While living on Siesta Key might not be an affordable option for many of these younger people, the commissioners apparently believe the Key should be a desirable attraction, with numerous recreational and social activities.
Being near the beach, the Village was the perfect location to satisfy the nightlife desires for the younger generation and, voila, that is what has happened.
I believe Siesta Key needs to focus on one thing to ensure a strong recovery from these challenging economic times: providing a safe, clean and family-friendly environment to attract families of all ages and retirees looking for a new life in paradise or just a pleasant vacation experience for a week or two.
I am concerned that if the Village, the beach and other locations on the Key continue to be exploited by Sarasota County to attract the attention of the 20-something party crowd, the reputation of Siesta Key as a desirable family vacation and retirement destination could be in jeopardy. Let’s not let that happen.
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.