At the conclusion Jan. 24 of the Longboat Key Public Interest Committee and Longboat Key Revitalization Task Force public forum on the future of the Key, longtime PIC board member Beverly Shapiro said to us:
“Now, you tell me how anyone can say PIC isn’t relevant.”
It would have been great for all Longboat Key property owners to have been there. The overarching message was, and is, important. It’s a message all Longboaters have heard many times. Indeed, Realtor Cathy Meldahl, a 40-year Key resident, said the comments and issues she heard at PIC’s forum were the same ones she heard 40 years ago.
The story and the issues seldom change.
The message was this: If Longboat Key is to remain one of Florida’s premier residential-resort communities, the town government and residents must reinvest to meet the demands of the changing marketplace.
In that vein, the word “millenials” came up often. And the same comment was repeated: The Key needs to evolve to have the housing stock and amenities the next generations want. The millenials don’t want shoe-box shaped condos with 8-foot ceilings and community washers and dryers.
Some of the comments were downright alarming. Meldahl, one of the panel members, shook the room with her realities:
“I’m showing more and more properties on Anna Maria,” she said. There’s more going on there than on Longboat Key — more retail, more restaurants, more to do. In fact, one chart flashed on the screen showed how average residential sale prices on Anna Maria are catching up to Longboat Key — $856,000 on Anna Maria versus $864,000 on Longboat Key.
This one was the jaw-dropper: Meldahl said many of Longboat Key’s condominiums do not have adequate reserves for maintenance, and “this is scaring people away.”
She has had a condo listing for two years priced at $200,000. But the condo fees are $1,100 a month.
“It’s no longer location, location, location,” said Jim Cameron, president of the Spanish Main Yacht Club. “It’s lifestyle.” Recreation, education and entertainment options, he said.
“We’re not going to be replacing ourselves,” he told the audience. “We have to look at who we want the buyer to be.” To that point, one audience member, from Windward Bay, said, “We always think what we want, not what the next generation wants.”
Admit you have a problem
You could sense most of the residents attending the forum understand Longboat Key’s challenge. As longtime resident Dick Pelton put it: “One of the things you need to do to solve problem is first of all admit you have one.”
Longboaters are admitting it. They know that many of the Key’s condominiums — now approaching 50 years in age — don’t meet the market’s demands. And the consequences of that, if not addressed, can be calamitous.
We saw it on South Miami Beach in the 1980s. The snowbirds who bought their condos in the early 1960s didn’t reinvest. They aged with their buildings. But while the snowbirds died, the buildings remained, crumbling and deteriorating. The southernmost tip of Miami Beach became a slum and haven for crime. Castro’s Marielitos moved in. Values plummeted.
Miami Beach’s City Commission tried all kinds of schemes to attract a master developer to re-do all of South Beach. The idea festered for a decade.
And then the renaissance occurred — driven solely by the marketplace, not at all by government.
It started with groups of gays recognizing they could buy oceanfront condos in historic Art Deco buildings at unheard of prices. Yuppies — singles and married no children couples — followed. They remodeled, renovated and upgraded, and as critical mass built, more people, more restaurants, more shops and more capital followed. Success begat success.
A key to the future
The crucial point to the South Miami Beach story is this: South Beach didn’t revive until after it sank to a horrible, horrible low.
No one on Longboat Key wants to repeat the first part of the South Beach story. Skip the slums and crime.
So the question is: How does the Key go from today to an even brighter and better next generation?
Publix was the first step. A redeveloped Hilton would be another significant step to igniting the renaissance. The timing even may be right now for the owners of the Benedict property, Villa Am Meer, between Villa diLancia and the Islander Club to develop what has always helped Longboat Key — new luxury condos.
But the real crux of Longboat Key’s future is perhaps the biggest challenge: the thousands of aging Gulf-front and bayfront condominiums built in the 1960s and 1970s.
Mayor Jim Brown gave the PIC forum the answer. It was almost an off-hand suggestion, but the idea is an acorn that could become a powerful oak.
In the mid-2000s, Longboat voters approved a charter amendment that allows non-conforming condominiums to be rebuilt in the event of destruction with the same number of existing units and in the same footprint. In short, replace what is there with what is there.
That won’t meet the millenials’ market demands.
“Maybe we need to think about relaxing the idea of building in the same footprint,” said Mayor Brown. Not maybe. Do it.
“What difference, at this point, does it make?”
That was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s response last week when asked about why the White House long insisted the murder of four Americans in Benghazi was the result of a spontaneous YouTube video protest and not a terrorist attack.
Here’s what difference it makes:
Why did the White House lie? That’s what 49% of American voters (those who did not vote for the incumbent) want to know. And the answer is not that’s what information was available at the time. We know that not to be true.
We may never know the truth. At least not while the current president remains in office.
In the meantime, seven tragedies in the Benghazi affair go forth with no one accountable:
• Tragedies 1-4: Four Americans are dead — an ambassador, an embassy official and two retired Navy Seals.
• Tragedy 5: No one at the highest levels, least of all Hillary Clinton, is being held accountable for ignoring Ambassador Chris Stevens’ call for additional protection in Benghazi. Clinton said, “I take responsibility.” But the president did nothing to hold her accountable. The American public has not heard her say: “I apologize to the four families and American people. I failed to do my job.”
• Tragedy 6: The American public did not, before the election or now, hold the commander in chief accountable for not sending in reinforcements in the seven hours his fellow countrymen were under terrorist attacks. That is his number one job: Protect Americans from foreign invaders.
Since the Benghazi attacks, many Americans have read accounts that retired Navy Seals Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods died at the U.S. consulate annex because they ran out of ammunition. They received no reinforcements; U.S. forces were instructed to stand down.
• Tragedy 7: The federal government used its power to blame, incorrectly, a video maker for the Benghazi attacks. No one at the highest levels has said that was wrong.
What difference, at this point, does it make?
Imagine the public and media outcry for this:
Four Americans die in a plane crash.
News reports uncover that the CEO of the publicly held company that maintained the airplane received memos before the crash saying his company’s airplanes were unsafe. He ignored the warnings and instructed his staff to continue business as usual.
Imagine the consequences for that CEO. Benghazi is no different.