How do you sum it up in 173 minutes?
That’s what town officials did for Urban Land Institute panelists Monday, Oct. 21, during a bus tour of the 11-mile island that included stops on St. Armands Circle and Bradenton Beach.
Here, we document how the journey unfolded:
8:39 a.m. — The bus leaves Longboat Key Town Hall to embark on a tour of the 11-mile island of Longboat Key.
8:42 a.m. — Demolition of the old Avenue of the Flowers building is underway as the bus enters the Shoppes of Bay Isles, where the new Publix and CVS opened in 2012.
Publix had to adhere to rigorous landscaping requirements for the property, Mayor Jim Brown says.
“From Gulf of Mexico Drive, you wouldn’t know this shopping center is here because of that buffer,” Brown says.
8:47 a.m. — The bus enters the gates of the Bay Isles community and makes a right, heading south and past a second gate. The bus drives past homes and condos that range from $500,000 to more than $1 million in price.
Panelists have more questions about Publix; they ask town officials if the supermarket is the shopping center’s main draw.
Yes, they tell them. In fact, when Arvida first made plans to bring Publix to the Key, many residents objected.
“They were afraid people would come here from off the island and shop,” Brown says. “That’s the attitude they’ve had for a long time. They don’t want to be a destination.”
8:58 a.m. — The bus enters what used to be a world-class destination — but now is vacant and blocked off by a chain-link fence.
“Now it’s just nothing,” Brown says of the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort. “It’s sitting here rotting.”
Brown gives the panel a CliffsNotes version of the dispute that unfolded over the past seven years between longtime Colony owner Dr. Murray “Murf” Klauber and unit owners, which ultimately led to the resort’s closing.
As the group walks around the property, one panelist imagines that the Colony “was a pretty cool place” back in the day.
One panelist observes the property could make a good haunted house for Halloween.
9:18 a.m. — The bus enters the Resort at Longboat Key Club’s Islandside gates. Brown points out where the proposed hotel and meeting center for the Key Club’s $400 million redevelopment-and-expansion plan would have been located. (The commission approved the plan in 2010, but a judge sided with Islandside residents who challenged the plan and quashed the application.)
9:24 a.m. — The bus drives down the part of Longboat Club Road, dubbed “Millionaire’s Row” because of its mega-mansions.
“We should have rented one of those,” a panelist jokes. (The panel is staying at the Longboat Key Hilton Beachfront Resort.)
9:29 a.m. — The bus is officially “off-island” and heads for St. Armands Circle, which will be jammed come peak season.
9:46 a.m. — The bus is back on the Key and turns into Country Club Shores. A man on the street eyes the bus and gets out his phone, causing passengers to wonder if he’s calling the police. Town officials notified police about the bus tour in advance.
“We have 7,500 code-enforcement officers here on Longboat Key,” Ray jokes of the island’s citizens, many who diligently notify the town whenever something is amiss.
A panelist’s question about whether the town has ever considered burying its utilities draws a few snickers from town officials.
The short answer: yes.
Town Manager Dave Bullock says cost estimates have ranged from $20 million to $80 million.
9:53 a.m. — The bus passes a car carrier — “a sign of the season,” Ray says.
10 a.m. — The group arrives at Bayfront Park — the place where the community center panelists read about in their briefing books would go if it were ever built.
10:24 a.m. — The bus turns into the Centre Shops of Longboat Key.
“It looks like it’s sort of limping along,” one panelist says.
“It’s doing a lot better than the one you’re about to see,” Schield says.
10:27 a.m. — Passengers view a glimpse of Joan M. Durante Park. It used to be a venue for concerts and other events, Schield tells them, although those stopped a few years ago.
A panelist asks why.
Mainly due to lack of interest, town officials explain.
10:32 a.m. — The bus ventures into Spanish Main Yacht Club — “an older neighborhood that is somewhat typical of the north end of Longboat Key,” Brown says — where prices range from $200,000 to $400,000.
10:41 a.m. — The bus stops at Whitney Beach Plaza.
The shopping center has remodeled, Brown explains, but that doesn’t solve everything.
“People have said there’s not enough people to support businesses,” Brown says.
10:43 p.m. — Panelists spot a peacock as the bus enters the Longbeach Village. They learn how the birds sometimes see their reflections in cars and scratch them and how noisy they can be.
“People will sometimes call and say there’s an old lady calling for help,” Schield says.
The bus drives past the Longboat Key Center for the Arts, which became a division of Ringling College of Art & Design in 2007. The change was unpopular with some residents.
“There’s been a lot of talk that when Ringling took it over, the uses and the offerings went down,” Ray says.
10:58 a.m. — If the panelists had a feeling they weren’t in Longboat Key anymore, they were right. The bus crosses the Longboat Pass Bridge to Bradenton Beach.
Brown tells panelists to take note of the contrast between the tiny city and the Key.
“It’s like they have no zoning,” he says. “People build another house in pretty much a backyard, and it’s all tourists.”
The bus passes the mural of a pirate with a parrot on his shoulder at Shell Land, and a man waves at the bus from the bars of Bridge Street before a panelist confirms that the building with a painting of two moose wearing swimsuits is, in fact, a Moose Lodge. Town Manager Dave Bullock jokes from the back of the bus that the businesses would disappear overnight if they were ever on Longboat Key because the residents wouldn’t stand for them.
11:09 a.m. — The bus has left the pirates and bikini-clad moose behind and is now back on Longboat Key. It makes its final stop on North Shore Road, where passengers exit the bus to check out the severe sand erosion. The town initially planned a beach-renourishment project for summer 2013 but pushed it back to next year after bids came in higher than expected because of Superstorm Sandy.
11:26 a.m. — Brown points out the Positano condominium, located on the site of the old Holiday Inn, that town officials have referenced throughout the tour. The impact of the loss of its 140 rooms that were replaced with 26 luxury condominiums on local businesses has been a topic of discussion at many stops.
11:32 a.m. — Panelists get off the bus just across the street from Town Hall. But the 173-minute bus journey isn’t the end of the tour for panelists, who are about to set sail for the boat portion of the tour.
By the numbers
173 — The length of the tour, in minutes
28 — The approximate number of miles driven during the tour
15 — The number of stops on the tour
3 — The number of cities/towns the panel visited during the tour: Longboat Key, Sarasota and Bradenton Beach
Contact Robin Hartill at firstname.lastname@example.org