Our View

 

Our View

 

Date: October 21, 2009
by: The Observer Staff

 
 

Findings of Fact
9. There is not sufficient evidence that the proposed redevelopment and requested departures are for the public interest. The economics involved in the redevelopment of the golf course and the potential economic spin-offs are recognized but may not be considered in the public interest.
— Monica Simpson
Oct. 9 Memorandum on the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s expansion proposal

It’s startling, given our capitalistic vantage point, how anyone would question or suggest whether a $400 million investment intended to increase the productivity and value of an asset is not in the public interest.

This is, after all, an asset that is used to provide pleasure, relaxation and rejuvenation to its customers — the public. It’s not a bomb factory.

But we understand, and we recognize that what we see is not what town Planning Director Monica Simpson or residents of L’Ambiance see. They see what they see: Simpson, the regulator, is trained to be the skeptic, obstructionist who looks for reasons to say a property owner’s proposal does not line up word for word with a regulatory code.

The constituents of the Islandside Property Owners Association likewise see what is front of them — what exists now on the Longboat Key Club’s property and what is being proposed. And in part because of their stage in life, they see that they don’t want the change. They want something less or to keep what they have. That is their view of the public interest, of what’s best for them.

This debate reminds us of what the late economists Milton Friedman and Frederic Bastiat said about any economic dilemma: People focus on the seen and forget the unseen. Friedman said: Think about the flip side of the coin.

Let’s do that.

Here’s the question: Is it in the public interest — a benefit to the public — to continue the trends on Longboat Key that have existed since the mid-1990s?

Look at the accompanying box. It lists some of the stores and restaurants on Longboat Key that have closed in the past 15 years. Sure, many may have succumbed to bad management, but all of them, in the end, suffered the same fate: not enough traffic and buyers to justify continuing to operate. To be sure, the constant, seasonal struggle and closing of these businesses is not in the public interest. Not a benefit.

Longboat Key’s commercial properties show a similar downward trend. The last commercial building to be constructed on Longboat Key was 20 years ago — the Northern Trust Bank Building on Bay Isles Road.
The Centre Shops were built 23 years ago. Drive up and down Gulf of Mexico Drive, and with the exception of some of the new condominiums, Longboat’s commercial properties are showing their age.
More troubling for the public interest is the fact the cost of commercial redevelopment and the tenuousness of commercial properties are so high that commercial property owners are unwilling to reinvest and redevelop their aging properties. They could never recoup their investments.

This is not in the public interest.

We all know property is not static. Our beaches tell us that. But more pertinent are Longboat Key’s residential neighborhoods. Throughout the mid-1990s and this decade, the overriding property trend on Longboat Key has not been stasis and maintaining the status quo. It has been reinvestment and redevelopment — tearing down 30- and 40-year-old homes and building anew, expanding, replacing the rundown and small, in many instances, with mansions that utilize the value of the underlying property at its fullest and proper extent.

We don’t see those residential projects today, in this recession. They are the unseen, but we should not forget them. Obviously, we deemed them to be in the public interest.

We all know you cannot retain or increase the value of your assets if you neglect to reinvest, update and replace. Nowhere is that clearer than at the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort. That is not in the public interest.

But let’s contrast the Colony with examples of what happens when you do reinvest. Consider one of the greatest resorts in America: the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs.

This historic resort opened in 1891, 118 years ago. It started out at 40 acres. Over the next 100 years, its owners accumulated 3,000 acres at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain. And in that time, it grew from a casino hotel into a five-star resort campus with 700 rooms and suites, five cottages, 19 $1-million brownstone homes and a five-story, 33-unit luxury condominium.

The Broadmoor is one of the top-two economic engines for Colorado Springs.

When we told Allison Scott, public relations director of the Broadmoor, about the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s proposed expansion project and the opposition it has engendered, she relayed her own story.

“I live about a mile away from the hotel,” she said. “We bought here 10 years ago. Since the Broadmoor added the brownstones, condominiums and cottages, my property value has gone up.”

The Broadmoor has undergone a lot of construction in the past eight years. Said Scott: “Did we have complaints? Of course, we did. But if they can see past the cranes and inconvenience, if they can be visionaries themselves, they’ll see the long-term prosperity.”

It’s in their interest. Unequivocally, it’s in the public interest.

+ Clash with McClash
Joe. Joe. Joe.

Joe McClash, that is. He’s the Manatee County commissioner who brings to mind the fictional county commissioner on “Dukes of Hazzard” — Boss Hogg, portrayed on the show as the stereotypical unethical, villainous politician who, in spite of his behavior, always wore a white hat. Which, of course, was a ruse.

It would be egregious and wrong to describe McClash explicitly as unethical and villainous. But on a linear scale with those three traits on the left end and sainthood on the right end, let’s just say the scale would be tilting to the left.

McClash has never made our Top 10 list, especially when we think back to when he was one of the Manatee commission’s ringleaders to displace home rule in the county’s municipalities, including Longboat Key. Or when he led the charge on the Manatee commission to adopt ordinances that would limit buildings’ heights to mid-rises.

Now he’s trying to use his political position to stop Longboat Key’s efforts to install rock breakwaters on the far north end of the Key, where erosion is a growing threat to property. He wrote a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, detailing 11 concerns and requesting a public hearing and denial of the project.
That’s OK; that’s his right. But how he went about his protest is another matter. Likewise some of his inaccuracies.

McClash used official Manatee County Commission stationery in an Oct. 1 letter sent to the Corps. He signed his name with the title “countywide commissioner.” He represents District 7.

That triggered a rebuke. McClash’s commission colleagues said his letter easily could have given the impression he was writing on behalf of the entire commission. To their credit, they called him on it. Our favorite response: Commissioner Carol Whitmore called McClash’s move “irresponsible behavior.”

In fact, McClash’s fellow commissioners apparently were so annoyed with the Boss they yanked him as the commission’s representative on the West Coast Inland Navigation District. This was like taking a toy away from a toddler.

Talk to Manatee County insiders, and they’ll tell you this was one of McClash’s pet appointments. He’s a big boater and has used his influence on the navigation district.

In place of McClash, the Manatee commissioners appointed John Chappie, former mayor of Bradenton Beach. And in less than a week, Longboat Key officials are already seeing a positive change in dealings with the navigation district.

McClash doesn’t give up easy, though. Still in pursuit of killing the Longboat project, he turned to another of his pet projects, the Bradenton Times, an online newspaper of which he serves as publisher and owner.

Forget for a moment the obvious credibility problem for the online newspaper that reports and writes on the very government body on which its publisher and owner sits. McClash, by the way, doesn’t see this as a problem.

McClash used his Bradenton Times to post a commentary headlined: “The Longboat Key breakwater issue: A request for public involvement.” Nowhere on the piece was there a label or indicator that this was an editiorial of Joe’s view of the breakwater issue, except perhaps the byline, which identified him as “County Commissioner, District 7.”

In addition, the article offers readers a link “to see the original and revised letter” McClash sent to the Corps. But the Oct. 1 letter was not there.

We can’t help but be skeptical of McClash’s actions and tactics. It’s known in officialdom that McClash was not an advocate or friend of Longboat Key on the the recent Port Dolphin pipeline issue. And to make matters worse, his sudden protest against Longboat Key’s proposed breakwater comes nine months after the Longboat Key Town Commission and Manatee County Commission met in a joint session in late January and discussed the breakwater proposal, with no objections from the county. McClash, of course, could have said something then — except he wasn’t there. Still, nine months progressed between then and now, plenty of time for him to display some cordial diplomacy.

But as we’ve known for a long time, that’s not how the Boss operates.

TREND OF DECLINE

The following list contains Longboat Key businesses that have closed since 1995. It is a partial list. Some closed because of poor management or owners wanting to retire, but in the end many shuttered because there weren’t enough buyers to sustain the businesses. Is the constant struggle of commercial businesses in the public interest?

Avenue of the Flowers
• Susan Stribling’s
• Brightwaters
• Phillip’s Menswear
• Patchington’s
• Hallmark store
• Reasoner’s Florist
• Carriage Clothiers
• Aerobics and Iron
• Liquor/video store
• Chinese restaurant
• Shell/BP station
Elsewhere on the Key
• Lynches’ Landing
• Sea Stable
• Chevron station
• North Longboat dental office
• Mattison’s Steakhouse
• Island Juice & Java
• Maureen’s Palm Grille
• Café on the Bay
• The Market
• You Dirty Dog
• Buccaneer Inn
• Colony Beach Resort
 

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