APRIL FOOLS — Talking on a cell phone is about to become a pleasure on Longboat Key.
That’s because later this week, contractors will install the final piece of the new “Flower Fiesta” sculpture: a 150-foot cellular tower in the design of the sculpture’s tall green silhouettes that will be called the Flower Fiesta Greenwise Tower. The tower will also advertise special Publix Greenwise products on sale each week at the top of the silhouettes in a red digital sign, with digits large enough for condo owners to see from their condo towers.
Last year, Publix proceeded through the planning processes at lightning pace before tearing down its old location and rebuilding a new 49,000-square-foot store in just eight months.
The store opened its doors at 8 a.m. on a chilly Thursday morning in December to applause from customers, who described it as “awesome” and said they got goosebumps walking through the sliding doors.
But, it wasn’t enough for Longboaters.
By 8:40 that morning, Publix began getting complaints from customers who said their calls were getting dropped before they could place their orders to the deli and bakery.
By 9:05 a.m., at least three Longboaters had gotten lost in the mammoth store but were unable to get a signal to call for directions to the Apron’s Simple Meals station and missed out on praline French toast samples as a result.
At the same time, Publix has an unprecedented need for cellular service: It just unveiled its new digital coupons program, but Longboaters have said they can’t get a signal strong enough to download the chain’s mobile app.
But not everyone is giving the tower a ringing endorsement.
A CVS spokesman said the tower could block CVS’s view of Publix. He suggested Publix consider alternatives, such as a distributed antenna system (DAS) network or placing signal-boosting antennae on its store.
“A shopping center like this is too special for a cell tower,” he said.
North-end residents are also disappointed the cell tower won’t boost coverage in their neighborhoods. Publix has offered free parking to north-end residents who need a place to talk on their cell phones.
The structure could offer an unobtrusive design for the tower that’s been proposed for the Longboat Island Chapel property.
Meanwhile, police have concerns about Longboaters having access to cell service in high-concentration areas.
Police say that cell phone use is a factor in 71% of accidents in which a motorized cart rider backs over another shopper’s foot. Increased cell phone use could increase the number of shopping cart vs. car fender-benders.
Town officials also expect the combination of improved cellular service and the new Publix liquor store to cause drunken dialing to skyrocket.