It’s official. The town is the proud owner of a 2.8-acre parcel behind Longboat Key Publix that the Longboat Key Town Commission hopes can become a part of a future town center concept for the Key.
In a May 2 email to the commission, Town Manager Dave Bullock wrote, “As of today, the town owns 2.81 acres beside Publix.”
The town agreed to purchase the property earlier this year for $1.5 million to help jumpstart a town center concept and preserve a piece of property that former owner Joe Wolfer was willing to sell to another interested party if the town didn’t act quickly.
The town used money from the town’s land acquisition fund to purchase the property. The land acquisition fund has more than $1.5 million in it and will soon receive another $2.3 million once the Longboat Key Hilton Beachfront Resort makes its payment into the fund when it obtains its building permit for a renovation and expansion project. If the town eventually sells any portion of the property to a developer for a town center concept, funds from the sale would go back into the land acquisition fund.
Bullock and town staff have spent months talking to citizens and property owners along Bay Isles Road about a town center concept that’s an integral part of an Urban Land Institute report’s list of recommendations for the community.
In March, the commission also approved a $200,000 budget for planning expenses involved with beginning the process of creating the town center overlay district.
This week, the town will make a request for proposals for a town center consultant. The consultant will act as a planning supervisor for developing an overlay district for the Bay Isles Road to create a town center. The overlay district will act as the road map for what can be designed there.
In 2013, Bullok hired Sarasota architect Gary Hoyt, who designed the new Longboat Key Publix, to make up two sets of town center renderings. One rendering shows a town center concept with the current office and commercial buildings in place and one rendering displays a concept without the buildings.
Those renderings have been shown to various business officials located in the potential town center area to keep those aware of what the town is trying to do for the area.
Town Center Detractors
Not everyone believes a town center is something that Longboat Key needs or can sustain.
Jules Rauch, the chairman of a Sleepy Lagoon committee formed to monitor the town center effort, said he believes the town is moving forward with a project that’s not going to be successful.
“We had a town center that forced people to get out of their cars and walk around to see all the shops,” Rauch said. “It was called Avenue of the Flowers and it was torn down after it was no longer viable.”
Rauch said at a recent Sleepy Lagoon homeowners meeting that everyone in attendance voted against the town center concept.
Bob Appel, president of Longbeach condominiums, also doesn’t believe Longboat needs a town center.
“Residents I know on the north end aren’t looking for a place to go,” Appel said. “Many north end residents head north to shop.”
Appel said he doesn’t think the town center will work.
“Nothing is sustainable on the Key other than Publix and the rest of what we have out here that already works,” Appel said.
Anne Arsenault recently submitted a letter to the editor stating a town center that attracts a cultural center is a waste of time.
“We have an Arts Center and an Education Center,” Arsenault wrote.
Arsenault said she wishes the town would focus on a medical center for the area as its top priority.
“Why don’t we get a hospital to set up a clinic?” Arsenault wrote. “Work on obtaining something that will work out here.”
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected]