A few things longtime Longboaters know about Colony Beach & Tennis Resort owner Dr. Murray “Murf” Klauber: He is a fighter, an eternal optimist and not a quitter. Setbacks spur him on to find other ways to move forward.
Nonetheless, the bankruptcy judge’s rulings the past two Fridays in the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort dispute with its unit owners’ board seem to have characteristics of a Pyrrhic victory. Klauber and the Colony prevailed against counterclaims of what the board implied as charges of malfeasance. Likewise, the judge assessed no damages against Klauber or the resort. And the court affirmed what Klauber has argued all along — that the unit owners are responsible for the maintenance and repair of the Colony’s 20-plus lodging buildings at the historic resort.
But he didn’t get the $14.1 million he sought to repair and renovate his beloved, yet deteriorating resort.
Many, many Longboaters are waiting for what will be a historic turning point for this idyllic, little island resort town. Indeed, the Colony is something of a metaphor for Longboat Key.
From the outside, the challenges for Klauber and the Colony look daunting. Publicly, we know Bank of America has begun foreclosure proceedings against the Colony to collect $8 million in outstanding loans; Klauber and his daughter, Colony President and General Manager Katie Klauber Moulton, have indicated they do not have the $14.1 million to renovate the resort’s buildings (nor are they responsible for them); and the buildings, inside and out, throughout the resort need complete reconstruction if the Colony is to live up to its storied reputation.
Add to this, the dispute with the unit owners’ board has not ended. A gulf still exists between the two sides.
For many Longboaters, the conflict at the Colony may not seem to affect them. But it does. It is somewhat like red tide, whose destructiveness spreads almost invisibly through the water, eventually choking every sea creature in its path.
The Colony conflict will not choke all of Longboat Key, but certainly what happens there affects the larger ambiance and image of Longboat Key. You would be crazy to think all of Longboat Key would not be viewed as a lesser place if, say, vacationers from Tampa, Miami, Atlanta, New York and elsewhere start to tell their friends and relatives the Colony is not what it used to be. Perceptions and comments like that indeed would affect all of us negatively. You are with whom you associate.
Imagine. Imagine what would happen if the Colony is not renovated. We’ve seen that outcome all over the Key — at the two commercial centers at 5610 and 5620 Gulf of Mexico Drive, at Avenue of the Flowers and, to an extent, at Buttonwood Plaza and Whitney Beach. All of these commercial centers are from another era. They’re physically deteriorating. And they look old.
They’re like age spots on our hands and faces. We see them every day and are used to the blemishes. We go about our business aware of the spots but not concerned. But to those who only see us skin deep, to the visitors from the United Kingdom or the young couple from Atlanta, these age spots are noticeable — and they send a message:
Longboat Key is … well, you get the point. It reminds us of the longstanding joke about St. Petersburg before its downtown was renovated, rebuilt and reborn. People called it “heaven’s waiting room.”
We should face up to this as a community.
You grow or you die; you reinvest or you die. These are business maxims that are true. And we should face up to these maxims as a community as well.
Imagine this scenario as well: Klauber sells the Colony or finds the capital and investors to buy out his unit owners to rebuild, renovate or re-do the entire Colony. And imagine he or new investors proposes what Klauber has talked about for a decade — adding a nine- or 10-story building to the Colony complex, complete with a world-class conference center. And say he and his investors add 66 more hotel units — out of the 250 voters approved two years ago — to bring the total units at the Colony to 300.
What would we do? Would the town and its residents fight this investment every step of the way? Would it do to Klauber and the investors what we are doing to the Longboat Key Club and Resort?
And think of this: If we fight this every step of the way, whom do we think is going to buy the 582 housing units for sale on Longboat Key — especially if the town and its residents chase off those who want to invest and keep the tourists coming? Most Longboaters know they and their families all started here as tourists; it is the town’s one and only economic generator.
When you step back and survey the present picture — the Key Club in conflict over its expansion, the Colony at a crossroads for its future, Whitney Beach in its present state and a generational change in our population — we are reminded today of the campaign message of former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, who is running for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate. He tells his listeners that for every generation in American history, the previous generation always has passed on a better standard of living to the next generation. But he warns his listeners that we, as a country, are heading in a direction that threatens to break that historical chain. He doesn’t want to be a party to that failure.
What Rubio says about America can be applied to Longboat Key.
Times are changing. And we must change with them. Get on board. Do our civic duty. Let’s do what we can to make this a better, more thriving place for the next generation.
BEHIND-THE-SCENES BID ON ST. ARMANDS
For the past eight years, the St. Armands Circle property owners, merchants and residents have co-existed peacefully, or as well as they ever have in the past two decades. It’s no coincidence that this détente and general like-mindedness has occurred simultaneously with the formation in 2001 of the St. Armands Business Improvement District.
The “BID,” as it is commonly called, is a taxing district that St. Armands Circle property owners voted to create to help finance physical improvements that would insure St. Armands Circle’s pre-eminence as Sarasota’s leading retail/tourism attraction.
The BID imposes a 2-mill tax on nearly 80 properties and then disburses its funds according to a formula — about 40% for capital improvements, 40% for marketing, 10% for enhanced maintenance and the remainder for operating expenses.
Overseeing the BID is a board of three St. Armands Circle property owners, the most prominent of which is Marty Rappaport, an 18-year St. Armands property owner and the BID’s organizer, godfather and chairman.
The BID has worked well with the three-member board of property owners. Key to this, Rappaport says, is board members recognize that for St. Armands Circle to progress, land owners, merchants and residents must be together. One cannot move forward without the other.
But as politics, taxation and property rights go, dissent is inevitable. Merchants Jack Pefley, owner of Taffy’s Menswear, and Scott MacDonald, owner of Crab and Fin, want merchants to have a seat on the BID board.
The state statute governing board membership says they shall be “residents of the proposed area and who are subject to the ad valorem taxation in the district.”
Pefley and MacDonald say they are “subject to” property taxes in their leases and thus should be eligible.
But this is a stretch. Yes, their leases require them to pay taxes, but the property owners ultimately are responsible.
The danger in broadening board membership is simple: What happens if merchants become the majority? Taxation without representation?
Commissioners, beware. Perhaps a compromise might be a five-member board, with three seats and a majority always guaranteed to the property owners.