Turn onto Bay Isles Parkway from Gulf of Mexico Drive. If you’ve reached the Bay Isles guard gate, you’ve gone too far. Turn left onto Bay Isles Road, then make a right into the Mediterranean Plaza parking lot.
Head through the double doors, then make a left at the rear door inside the building.
You have arrived at the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce.
Gail Loefgren, who returned Sept. 3 as the chamber’s executive director, thinks it’s a fine location — just not for a chamber of commerce. People often don’t plan to visit chambers. Instead, they notice the chamber while driving or walking and make a spur-of-the-moment decision to stop.
“This is a beautiful building,” she said. “It’s got a board room and a kitchen. But I’ve been back here seven days, and we’ve had two visitors.”
A new location, possibly at the Centre Shops, is one of Loefgren’s top-two priorities.
The second: a new website.
Like the physical location, Loefgren thinks it needs to be easy to find. She wants it to come up in the top-five search-engine results when visitors research Longboat Key and contain information that will be useful to visitors.
“Obviously, if I’m looking up Longboat Key from Georgia or Minnesota, I’m going to be looking for tourist information,” Loefgren said. “I’m going to be looking for restaurants and accommodations and retail and the things you need to know if you’re visiting the area. It also needs to be useful to Realtors because that’s big business around here.”
Loefgren served as president of the chamber from 1993 through early 2008. Prior to that, she served as the mayor of Rochelle, Ill., and (at the time she was hired to lead the Longboat chamber) she was executive director of the Sunrise Chamber of Commerce in the south Florida city of Sunrise.
During her tenure on Longboat Key, the Florida Association of Chamber Professionals named the chamber the Best Small Chamber in Florida.
She led the chamber’s efforts to advocate for the approval of two town referenda, one allowing properties to rebuild to current density levels and the other to allow the addition of 250 tourism units to replace those lost in recent years.
Loefgren also initiated the placement of 2,974 flags along Gulf of Mexico Drive each year in honor of every individual who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
After resigning from the chamber in late 2008, Loefgren took two years to spend time with her family, which now includes six grandchildren.
Then, she went back to work as a career counselor with Suncoast Workforce — an experience she believes will be useful to her new job because she gained extensive knowledge about the workforce.
She reports that her first days back have been tiring — but exciting.
“I’ve worked for three chambers, and this was my favorite,” Loefgren said. “When I go home from a day at work, I go home excited.”
Q&A with Gail Loefgren
What have you been doing the last four-and-a-half years?
I spent the first two years getting reacquainted with my grandkids … but I love working. I don’t understand the concept of retirement. About two-and-a-half years ago, I went to work with Suncoast Workforce, a state and federal agency that helps people find work. We worked with veterans, victims of domestic violence and the long-term unemployed. They were desperate when they came to us. We were their last-ditch effort. We really got to know the workforce, and that’s going to be useful here.
What is your dream location for the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce?
With what I know that’s available, the Centre Shops would be great, and we’d be a great fit for them. Other places like Whitney Beach would be too far north, although, if something opened up and it was affordable, we might consider it.
The chamber is most grateful to Getzen Realty for providing space at Mediterranean Plaza. However, due to the nature of the mission of the chamber in general, the office really needs to be located in a highly visible area.
Are there any areas in which the town and chamber can work together?
The upcoming ULI (Urban Land Institute) study is important for the future of business on the Key. We’re hoping we can get the business community involved.
Two of the ULI study questions for discussion address the role of tourism on the Key. What do you think that role should be?
Tourism is key. I know it’s a residential island, and we respect that. I would like to work within the perimeters of a residential community.
People come to the island as visitors, buy property and become residents. We need to keep that going.
We don’t want to be Miami Beach. I love Longboat Key just the way it is. It’s beautiful and it’s quiet. But our businesses need to have visitors come and support them during season.
Do you think all 250 tourism units voters approved in 2008 will eventually be allocated?
I don’t know. I don’t think so. I don’t know where they would be. There could be further loss of units at the Colony, which would then make it even harder.
Have you heard concerns from the business community about the state of the Colony?
Not yet, but I would guess it would be a concern of mine. It would especially be a concern of mine if it were rebuilt as a condo. I would want it rebuilt as a hotel.
Are there any new events that you’d like to see the chamber host?
A fishing tournament would be a natural fit. I want to be sure that events are successful and economically viable, but, at the moment, there’s nothing new planned. I’d also like to have educational seminars for businesses about issues that affect them.
I’m trying to organize a seminar about the Affordable Care Act, which goes into effect next month, and what it means for employers. We don’t want to get political; we want to educate.
How has Longboat Key changed since you left?
Longboat hasn’t changed a lot. The businesses that were here and successful are still here. The business community is pretty much the same and probably working with the same issues.
LBK Chamber of Commerce Executive Directors
1977-1979 Barbara Ladley
1979-1983 Hazel Hankee
1983 Jeanette DeVore
1984-87 John Drummey
1987-88 Frank Cunningham and Sherwood Lorenz
1989-91 Sunday Crew
1991-1992 Betty Wortham
1993-2008 Gail Loefgren
2009-2013 Tom Aposporos
2013-present Gail Loefgren
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2 Florida's Children First 2014 Sarasota Reception
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