I’m part of the problem, but I have a solution.
What’s the problem? It’s people like me who inhabit Longboat Key three to four months per year and then motor north for the better part of the spring, summer and fall.
That’s a problem, because when we’re gone, we aren’t swiping credit cards through the Key’s machines or occupying seats in its restaurants and salons. There just is not enough tourist business to take up the slack.
When I told D’Arcy Arpke, co-owner with her husband of Euphemia Haye, that their Haye Loft was my favorite place on the Key and that it’s jammed every time I’m there, she confessed that it’s hard to meet the payroll the months I’m gone. Since the teardown of the Holiday Inn and the demise of the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort, the tourist crowd has dwindled by tens of thousands. That’s business up and down the Key.
When the Longboat Key Revitalization Task Force chaired by George Spoll convened its charette Jan. 28, the assembled talked about the north end of the Key. Several consensuses emerged. One was that Whitney Plaza could use a boutique hotel backed up to the inlet behind the row of store fronts. The hotel could attract tourists and replace some of the lost business revenues.
Now that’s a potential plan, at least the start of one. But I’m here to submit a bigger — complementary — idea. Let’s market Longboat Key for what it already is: a tennis mecca.
Can you see it now? “Longboat Key, Florida’s Tennis Center.” “A Tennis Player’s Paradise.” Tennis players may not be as liberal with the bar tab as golfers or eat grouper in green Augusta blazers, but they are a respectable lot.
We already have a regional tennis magazine, Totally Tennis. We have the $100,000 Sarasota Open, for pros, at the Longboat Key Club and Resort in May and we have superb tennis facilities. Our award-winning Longboat Key Public Tennis Center has 10 Har-Tru courts and plenty of court time and programs for visitors in the off-season. The Cedars has 10 more Har-Tru courts. They’re available for tourists who rent one of their townhouses on a weekly basis. The Longboat Key Club and Resort has its own USTA-honored Tennis Gardens, on whose 20 courts its hotel guests can and do play. The IMG Academies, only a 30-minute drive away in Bradenton, has ongoing adult tennis programs that’ll improve the game of any tourist.
And let’s hope that one day soon the warring tribes will cease fire and halt the conversion of the Colony into the Baghdad of West Coast Florida. That would free up redevelopment and dozens more tennis courts for tourist use.
In times past, the Bollettieri Tennis Academy (now IMG) introduced many of us to Longboat Key by offering at the Colony reduced-rate condo rooms for Bollettieri customers. Some of us liked Longboat so much we bought condos here.
Marketing the Key as a tennis mecca would take money, marketing skill and the collaborative effort of the town (as owner of the public tennis center), the Key Club, Cedars, IMG, the chamber of commerce, the Longboat Key Hilton Beachfront Resort, the mom-and-pop motels, the restaurants and the revitalization task force. The project may have to await the Colony’s resuscitation, but it could help incite the building of a boutique hotel.
You’d market for the off-season when there’s more court availability. You’d create tennis packages of rooms, tennis and dining. You’d advertise in Tennis magazine, on the Tennis Channel and in tennis clubs around the eastern half of the United States.
That’s my solution. Let the planning begin, so that we can insure that we keep Eric mixing mojitos behind the HayeLoft’s lovely bar on a year-round basis.
Ed Adams is a resident of Longboat Key.
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