When the Longboat Key Club and Resort announced plans to hold the Sarasota Open at its new Harbourside Tennis Gardens facility last month, concerned club members and Bay Isles residents worried about traffic backups flooded the club with calls.
“It was expressed to me and other club managers that there were concerns from Bay Isles homeowners and club members who didn’t want to be disturbed during this event,” said Longboat Key Club and Resort Safety Manager Robert Hunt.
The concerns were justified.
The eight-day tennis tournament was new to the club this year, and Tony Driscoll, chief executive officer of the Sarasota Open, said that 21,400 tickets were pre-sold for the event.
Dick Weber, president of the Bay Isles Master Association, which oversees 25 associations and 1,550 families at the Key Club, confirmed the concern.
“It was an event that had never been done before, and we made it known that we were worried about traffic coming in and out of the gates,” Weber said.
As it turns out, Key Club officials were worried, too.
“It was the biggest event we have ever undertaken,” said Hunt, who oversaw all aspects of the tournament, including parking.
To counteract the unknown, Hunt said club staff spent months preparing for the tournament.
For starters, the club paid for four Longboat Key police details to monitor traffic at Gulf of Mexico Drive and Bay Isles Parkway.
Hunt and his staff also:
• Supervised the Bay Isles Parkway guard gate, making sure that traffic for Sarasota Open guests and Key Club residents flowed smoothly.
• Passed out dashboard tickets to tournament guests so guards did not have to stop guests to ask them where they were going.
• Had club employees and dozens of volunteers park their vehicles in satellite parking lots that included lots at Avenue of the Flowers, Beth Callans Management, Bank of America, SunTrust and Northern Trust. The satellite lots ensured that the 500 parking spots available near the Tennis Gardens were open for both guests of the tennis tournament and club members.
• Acquired a trolley to shuttle employees, volunteers and guests from satellite parking lots.
“We wanted to make it as normal as possible for people who live there and members who use the facilities,” Hunt said.
The event was busy, Hunt said, especially Friday, May 15 and Saturday, May 16, during singles and doubles men’s tennis matches.
Overall, actual attendance reached 14,126 attendees over eight days, which still made it the biggest event the club has ever overseen.
Driscoll said he hopes to partner with the club “for many years to come” by continuing to bring the United States Tennis Association event back to the club.
But, more importantly for club officials, the preparations made in advance of the tournament helped to make the tournament a complaint-free success.
“There was not one, single complaint during the event or after it was over,” said Hunt, who reported that club staff also oversaw weddings while keeping club members happy on the golf course and in the restaurants.
Weber confirmed that he received no traffic complaints from residents behind the Bay Isles gates.
“It went very well, and we appreciated the fact that the club worked to address our concerns beforehand,” Weber said.
Key Club General Manager Michael Welly said he believes “in over-planning for events.”
“I would hope that the Islandside community would look to the preparations we made (for the Sarasota Open) when it considers the renovation plan we are proposing,” Welly said.
We are not short-termers here, and we will never damage our reputation with our neighbors, the local community or a customer.”
Meanwhile, Bob White, chairman of the Islandside Property Owners Coalition, said that you can’t compare how traffic was handled for this event to how traffic would be if the $400 million Islandside renovation plan were completed.
“That’s not a fair comparison,” White said.
KEY CLUB RE-SUBMITS APPLICATION
The Longboat Key Club and Resort’s $400 million Islandside renovation application will be submitted for the second time Wednesday, June 10, to the Planning, Zoning and Building Department, according to Key Club General Manager Michael Welly.
The club dropped plans for the guardhouse after The Longboat Key Association, which owns and maintains the road, refused to sign off on the Islandside application.
The town must decide whether the club has the right to make minor changes to the road, including curb cuts and minor sidewalk modifications, without the association’s approval.
The plan calls for 196 hotel units on seven floors; 132 golf club condos on seven floors; and 10 villas in two buildings near New Pass.