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Longboat Key Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017 4 years ago

2017: Longboat Year in Review

From triumph to tragedy, Longboat Key saw it all in 2017.
by: Eric Garwood Managing Editor

Jan. 19: Mote scientist makes most of her TV gig

Tracy Fanara is an educated woman, no question about that. The University of Florida graduate has a doctorate in environmental engineering and she uses it at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium.

Tracy Fanara appeared on Mythbusters.
Tracy Fanara appeared on Mythbusters.

Still, she was ready to learn a lot more as part of TV’s “Mythbusters: The Search,” a Science Channel spinoff of Mythbusters. On the show, she was part of a team that undertook science-ish challenges, such as painting a room with explosives or ejecting a human dummy from a moving car.

Mote staff scientist Devin Burris said Fanara came back with a lot of building skills after appearing in seven episodes.

“She’s always been a creative person, but I think the show brought even more of that out and especially with projects that we want to do in the future,” Burris said.


Jan. 26: So long, Amore. See you soon.

It was a close call that became a live negotiation, but the Longboat Key Town Commission voted in January to buy the 2-acre Amore property for the coming Arts, Cultural and Education Center.

Amore closed on Longboat then reopened in Sarasota in 2017.

Vice Mayor Phill Younger cast the deciding vote for the town to buy the property from Howard Rooks for $2.2 million. Originally intending to vote no, Younger changed his mind after noting the absence of Commissioner Irwin Pastor.

“I’m really, really bothered about standing in the way of what I think a commission would do,” Younger said. “I’m going to gag on this when I get home, but I’ll change my damn mind, and I’ll vote yes for the thing.”

Amore closed in May and reopened in Burns Court in Sarasota in the fall with a lot of the same staff.


Jan. 26: We were ready for our close-up

When Ben Affleck wrote, directed and starred in “Live By Night,’’ there was some hope Longboat Key would be a featured part of the story, because Dennis Lahane’s original novel was set here and in Ybor City.

Affleck's movie did not film on the island.

Longboat Key is the spot where Affleck’s character hopes to build a casino and hotel.

But when film rolled out . . . nothing.

A Ybor City replica was built in Georgia. And Longboat Key? It’s just a passing conversation.

“If they decided on Longboat Key, it would have been better than a mention, and a mention is better than sharp stick in the eye,” said Ed Chiles, who Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant and Pub, Beach House and Sandbar restaurants.


Feb. 2: Wind and waves bring north-end worry

It wasn’t a hurricane or tropical storm. But a blustery Sunday in January brought Bob Bunting out for a walk on the beach. Problem was, the beach wasn’t there.

Saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico had washed over Beer Can Island, and was flowing steadily into the cove. “Basically, I was up to my knees in water at low tide there,” he said.

Public Works Director Juan Florensa referred to the Jan. 22  washover as a mini-storm surge, which happens when storms with strong northwestern winds hit the island.

As 2017 comes to a close, the town is considering its options on a plan to stabilize the island.


Feb. 16: Happy 90th, Murf!

“Murf” Klauber celebrated a special birthday.

Longtime Longboat Key resident Dr. Murray “Murf” Klauber celebrated a special birthday Feb. 8 at one of his son’s many local dining establishments, Michael’s Wine Cellar.

Klauber’s closest family and friends gathered to surprise him with the party, which was “monkey bar” themed. Several decorations were hung to make the cellar look like the beloved bar of his former Colony Beach & Tennis Resort.

Guests enjoyed drinks and an appetizer bar, as well as several slideshows of photos from Klauber’s past 90 years.


Feb. 23: The end of the Arts Center

Though everyone knew it was coming, officials in February set a date for the closing of Longboat Key’s Center for the Arts: the end of May.

The cottages are set to be the new home of the island's historical society.

Ringling College officials, who are working with the town on the development of the Arts, Cultural and Education Center, said the north-end property had been sold for residential development.

Two vintage cottages from the property were moved in August to a new site near Gulf of Mexico Drive with hopes of becoming the new home of the Longboat Key Historical Society.


Feb. 23: Record-setting real estate listing hits the market

The Serenissima estate — it means “most serene” in Italian — went on the market for a record $26.5 million, more than any listing ever in Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte counties.

A Longboat property became the most expensive listing in the tri-county area.

Behind the walls of the Longboat Key Club in Regent Court, the home offers 19,300 square feet of living space on three stories.

It’s on 1.2 beachfront acres and features a 10-car garage below the living spaces, along with six bedrooms, six full bathrooms and two half-baths.

It’s still on the market, by the way.


March 2: 25 years for Miss Vicki

Vicki Workman and her husband, George

When Vicki Workman was looking for a job 25 years ago, the manager at the Publix on Longboat Key said she could be hired in a heartbeat. Fast forward to present day and Workman, known to locals as Miss Vicki, celebrated her 25th anniversary with Publix last spring.

For 23 years, Workman worked in the produce department, but she now works in the bakery department. The store celebrated Miss Vicki’s anniversary Feb. 27 with a cake, surprise party and a certificate.


March 16: Voters have their say

In the end, the election results shouldn’t have surprised anyone: the Colony redevelopment plan was rejected and a pair of familiar faces won seats on the Town Commission.

Jack Daly took District 4 over Larry Grossman 66% to 34%, and Jim Brown defeated Gene Jaleski 59% to 41%. The Colony proposal went down by more than a 4 to 1 ratio.

Also rejected, a referendum seeking permission to begin proceedings on a 10-home residential project on vacant property on Gulf of Mexico Drive.

The vote was 2,131 votes opposed to 1,525 for the referendum.


March 16: Longtime Public Works Director drives into the sunset

When Juan Florensa retires early in 2018, it will be from a career well-spent.

The Public Works Director announced his intentions with plenty of time to find and acquaint his replacement on all things Longboat.

Since starting his position in 2001, Florensa has accomplished a lot. Some projects stand out.

When Florensa came to the Key, there was no plan to update the town’s aging system of lift stations, or sewage pumps, which was built in 1977.

Now, all of the major and mid-sized lift stations have been upgraded, Florensa said, and the smaller stations are being addressed.

Juan Florensa retired in 2017 after nearly two decades working for the town.

Another fond moment for Florensa was when he and his team were able to prepare the town’s water main for an emergency situation. The pipe that transports water from Manatee County used to stop at the south end of the Key. Today, it’s connected with the city of Sarasota.

So, if there’s ever an issue with the water from the north end, like a line breakage, water from Sarasota can be used as an emergency backup.

“I learned by making mistakes,” Florensa said. “And by asking a lot of questions.”

He was replaced in 2017 by Isaac Brownman, who served in a similar capacity for Sarasota County.


March 23: Club’s annual breakfast raises scholarship dough

It’s breakfast and a whole lot more.

The annual Kiwanis Club of Longboat Key’s Pancake Breakfast goes a long way toward supporting the club’s grant and scholarship fund.

In 2017, the group served up about 1,000 pancakes and a lot of smiles. Months later, those smiles were transferred to a group of college and college-bound students in the form of scholarships.


March 30: Who’s coming to live on Longboat?

We had some of you thinking it was for real, but then again, that’s what we shoot for in our annual April Fool’s edition.

The former president did not in fact buy a property on Longboat.

With President Barack Obama zeroing in on a Longboat location for his retirement, we had a rare glance into his decision-making process: A spokesman said the family is looking for at least four bedrooms and three baths though is leery of waterfront property, given the possibility of sea-level rise “especially in the next four years.’’

No, it wasn’t true. Nor was the idea of swan boats forming the backbone of a new commuting strategy; the top-ranking of the town for leisurely travel from Stop & Go magazine or the plan to redevelop the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort into a luxury cemetery.

Jokes. All jokes.


April 6: Clair steps up to fill empty commission seat

Randy Clair swears in.

Randy Clair filled Armando Linde’s open seat on the Town Commission following his March 21 resignation. Clair, who served as an at-large commissioner between 2005 and 2009, was the only applicant for the job.

Clair had been appointed to the Charter Review Committee. He has now resigned from that duty because of his approval to the Town Commission.


April 13: Door handle is no small issue

She’s 4-foot-10 and had a lot of trouble with a new door installed by her condo association.

Shirley Deutsch and her husband, Gene, have spent winters at The Promenade for nearly 10 years. The 112-unit condominium had been undergoing a $2.6 million remodeling project. Part of the project included new front doors for the units.

Shirley Deutsch's new door handle is nearly 45 inches high, reaching to the top of her shoulder.

The couple paid their share for the remodeling assessment. It was when the doors arrived  in February that Deutsch realized she had a problem.

She said the handle on her old door was at about 39 inches in height. Her new door handle is nearly 45 inches high, nearly reaching to the top of Deutsch’s shoulder.

She says it’s hard for her to easily open the door and she’s afraid of getting hurt.

“It’s not good,” she said. “That’s what I know.”


May 4: Town’s top administrator sets retirement

“Oh, no! He’s the best.’’

The simple reaction to Dave Bullock’s retirement announcement from Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce President Gail Loefgren summed up the admiration for the town manager and the surprise at the news.

Bullock announced his retirement in 2017.

Bullock, who has served as the town’s top administrator since 2011, will step away from Town Hall in early 2018.

As town manager, Bullock oversaw a lot of signature projects such as Bayfront Park, the underground utilities endeavor and the Center for the Arts, Culture and Education.

Bullock will join longtime Public Works Director Juan Florensa in retirement and will be replaced by former County Manager Tom Harmer, who has already begun working in Town Hall.

Before taking the job on the Key, Bullock had been a deputy county administrator of Sarasota County for 14 years. Prior to that, Bullock owned his own construction and logging company. He also spent eight years as a management consultant.


June 8: Trashed!

Memorial Day was Trash Day for a lot of the visitors to Beer Can Island.

Memorial Day festivities littered Longboat beaches.

But instead of collecting it, they left piles of beer cans, boxes, wrappers and other refuse on the sand. Neighbors told the town the holiday was the last straw.

“It’s like a frat party on the weekends.’’

Police wrote 51 parking tickets, 61 boating-violation warnings, made 11 alcohol-related arrests on Memorial Day weekend, vowing to gear up similarly for the Independence Day weekend.

During the Independence Day weekend, Key police issued six parking tickets, gave three verbal warnings for alcohol violations and 13 verbal warnings for boating violations.


June 15: Monsignor happy to serve for diamond jubilee

It was a bit of happenstance that the Monsignor Gerry Finegan landed in Florida, but his time in the Sunshine State has been well-spent.

Finegan, pastor of St. Mary, Star of the Sea, Catholic Church, missed the deadline to apply to work in  his home diocese in Ireland, and ended up instead in St. Augustine.

Gerry Finegan was happy to celebrate 50 years of service.

That was 1967.

The past 50 years have brought him from St. Augustine to Pinellas County, where he taught at Clearwater Central Catholic High School. He then served as chaplain at Cardinal Mooney High School and was pastor at Incarnation Parish in Sarasota before coming to Longboat Key in 2008. Two years later, Finegan received the papal honor of Chaplain to His Holiness from Pope Benedict XVI.

“What has been my favorite part? That God could take someone like me and use me to be a blessing for others,” he said.


June 29: Zota opens its doors

The Zota Beach Resort formally opened in late June.

The 187-room resort at 4711 Gulf of Mexico Drive was originally set to open in December 2016, but construction delays pushed the opening into June.

Zota opened its doors this summer.

The resort, built at the site of the former Hilton, features a new 84-room hotel tower in addition to a renovated 103-room hotel. It features a new lobby, pool and pool area, the Viento restaurant, a wine bar and meeting space.

Zota is the first development to draw from the town’s tourism-unit pool, which was created and approved by nearly 90% of Key voters in 2008. Zota received 85 of the 250 units, leaving 165.


July 5: Park officially opens

The new and improved Bayfront Park on Longboat Key opened in July and was formally dedicated in November.

Among the park's amenities are fishing piers.

Construction on the $3.5 million project began in June 2016. While the town paid $1.02 million for the renovations, Sarasota County contributed $2 million.

The park includes a kayak launch, playground, fishing pier, covered pavilion and two dog parks, as well as courts for pickleball, tennis, basketball and shuffleboard.

Members of the Key community also contributed donations for the playground, shade trees and gear for the two dog parks.

In May, Happy Paddler Kayak Tours & EcoVentures, operated by husband and wife duo Shane Catts and Holly Rolls, was selected as the park’s kayak vendor.


July 12: Happy Fourth of July!

Spectators lined Bay Isles Road for the annual Fourth of July parade.

It was an all-American celebration on Bay Isles Road on July 4.

Grand Marshal David Miller led the parade around the quarter-mile loop. He was followed by the Rotary Club of Longboat Key and its Hot Diggity Dog costume contest participants, the Longboat Key Garden Club aboard its red, white and blue and butterfly-clad float, businesses competing in the Cannons Marina best float contest and bike-riding kids.

This was the first year that Cannons Marina had to pay up in its best business float contest. Ten businesses participated, and the winner was Longboat Island Chapel.


July 12: Fun floats in

When it arrived, few people knew what to make of it.

A floating playground arrived on the north end of Longboat Key this summer.

A brightly colored barge, powered by an outboard motor, was attracting fun-lovers to its water slides, swings and trampolines in the waters just off the northern end of Longboat Key.

It wasn’t in the town, so the local police and authorities couldn’t do much about it, other than keep an eye on things.

Some residents complained, though not everyone was dead set against the attraction, owned by Ed Toro of Fun Life Entertainment.


July 12: Longboat loses a heavyweight

Weldon Frost, who died in July at age 86, was a lot of things to a lot of people.

A loyal family man to be sure. But also a friend, opinion-letter writer, Christmas-time bell-ringer and hard-working chair of the Longboat Key Kiwanis Club’s Scholarship Committee.

Weldon Frost was one of Longboat's most beloved residents.

As longtime friend “Cash” Register said, there has never been a better friend. As Frost’s health began to decline, Register made sure the two spent time together by having semiweekly lunches at Kelsey’s on Cortez for $3 hamburgers on Tuesdays and 15-cent chicken wings on Thursdays.

Occasionally other people would join, usually Wayne Swift and Tony Pescatello.

“At those luncheons we were able to discuss and solve a lot of the world’s problems,” Register said.


July 27: Colony developer resets with smaller plan

Call it a Plan B.

Chuck Whittall, president of Unicorp National Developments submitted a new plan for the nearly 18-acre site of the former Colony Beach & Tennis Resort in late July.

In July another set of plans was laid out for the former Colony property.

The proposal includes a five-star 166-room hotel, operated by St. Regis, and 102 residential condominiums, for a combined total of 268 units.

St. Regis is a five-star luxury brand of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, which is part of Marriott International Inc. — the world’s largest hotel brand. There are 60 St. Regis hotels worldwide, including 11 in the United States. There is one St. Regis location in Florida — the St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort in Miami.

Many details of the proposal are scaled down from Whittall’s original proposal, which failed in a March referendum by 87% of the vote. The former plan included a total of 417 units and a maximum building height of 12 stories.


August-September: Homicide case shocks the town; suspect now in a coma

The outcome of  a crime that shocked Longboat Key in early August now has an uncertain future as the single suspect in the shooting deaths of two hotel workers lies in a coma.

Timothy Hurley, the 59-year-old night desk manager for the Zota Beach Resort and 51-year-old Kevin Carter, a security guard with Victory Security, were both found shot to death in the lobby early on Aug. 3. Police said robbery of about $900 was the motive.

Longboat Police Chief Pete Cumming speaks during a press conference announcing the arrest Darryl Hanna. Jr.

Six days later, Darryl Hanna Jr., a Bradenton man who worked part time for the hotel’s security service, was arrested and charged with two counts of murder and a count of armed robbery.

“Our residents are not accustomed to this kind of violence, and they won’t become accustomed to it,” Police Chief Pete Cumming said. “This was an isolated incident, an ugly, horrible incident and the quick resolution to that, I think, can reassure people this is a safe community and it will continue to stay that way.”

Weeks later, the victims’ families were notified that Hanna suffered a stroke-like attack on Sept. 10 and has been medically unresponsive since. Hanna was to have appeared in court on Oct. 26 for a case management conference.

The next court date has been scheduled for late February when Hanna's defense team will likely to file a suggestion of incompetency to say he's not fit to stand trial, O’Donnell said.


Aug. 10: $63,000 in scholarships awarded

The Kiwanis Club of Longboat Key awarded $63,000 in scholarships in August, which it raised through fundraising events, such as its annual Gourmet Lawn Party. Students, their families and Kiwanis Club members gathered for the annual scholarship breakfast at the Harbourside Ballroom of the Longboat Key Club.

Although not all 33 recipients attended, the ones who did took turns accepting their scholarship and thanking the Kiwanis Club. More than 100 students applied for the scholarships.


September: Irma scared us, but it could have been a lot worse

Debris would line Longboat for months, but the island largely avoided any significant damage.

We said it at the time, but we were not alone.


Hurricane Irma looked like the Big One we’ve all been warned about. The 10-foot storm surge predictions alone were enough to grab our full attention.

But in the end, Irma wasn’t so bad, thanks to a path that angled more to the east than originally feared.

Sure, power went out and we all wondered if underground power lines would have fared better. And it took weeks for tree debris to disappear from curbsides.

And we learned about some heroic work by the town to keep pumps running and head off nasty sewer overflows.

It sure could have been worse.


September-Present: Town moves to confiscate voyeurism-suspect’s condo

After arresting William Natt on charges of video voyeurism, to which he plead not guilty, Longboat Key Police took the unusual step of filing forfeiture proceeds against Natt’s condominium.

Guests in the condo said they were video tapped without their consent.

Contending the property was an instrument of the felony, the town appeared in court in November in the first step of the process after gaining 4-3 approval from the Town Commission.

A circuit court judge in Manatee County agreed with the town, ruling there was sufficient evidence to get the ball rolling. Should the town succeed, it would own the $170,000 condo.


Oct. 5: Fuel up for free…with one catch

Bayfront Park visitors can add some electricity to their trip.

The electric car charger at Bayfront Park is the first public charger on the island.

Along with a kayak launch, playground and pavilion, the town installed an electric car charger as part of its $3.5 million renovation of the park. Adjacent to one of Bayfront’s two dog parks, the electric bill from the charger is being paid for by the town, so it’s like a free fill up.

“We’re not sure how much it will cost, but we don’t think it will break us,” Town Manager Dave Bullock said.

The public charging station is the first, and so far only, one of its kind on the island. The unit, along with construction costs, totaled $55,000 with Sarasota County picking up about half the cost.


Oct. 26: Crikey, no one likes these trees

Hate those Australian pines in your yard?

Need a little cash?

Australian pines were blown about Longboat after Hurricane Irma.

Town Commissioners have cooked up a bounty on those annoying transplants from Down Under, which, by the way, aren’t really suited for Florida soil and topple over long before other trees in high winds.

Homeowners with trees that could affect Gulf of Mexico Drive may receive up to $1,500 while other residents are eligible for up to $750. Trees must pose a threat to public infrastructure — power lines, roadways and water pipes — if they fall. And there’s a limit: three per resident.

And remember to key phrase here: “up to.”


Nov. 9: Developer, condo owners make new deal over Colony plans

The site of the former Colony Beach & Tennis Association moved closer to redevelopment when the Colony Beach & Tennis Club Association “revised and restated” its development agreement with Unicorp National Developments Inc. — through an 8-1 vote — paving the way for the developer to seek the dissolution of the condo association in the courts, rather than by owner consensus.

The two entities have been negotiating the new plan —  which offers $170,000 a unit, plus $100,000 for midrises and an extra $200,000 for beachfront dwellings — for about six months. In December 2016, Unicorp paid $165,000 for two units, $84,000 for two others and $65,000 for two others.


December: Town looks at dog park changes

An injury to a dog that escaped under the fence at Bayfront park prompted the town to revaluate the facility.

A 20-pound dog was injured when it slipped through the fence of a dog park built for bigger breeds, and town leaders are now looking at changes to keep it from happening again.

Chance, a 4-year-old, 20-pound Parson Russell terrier, was hit on Gulf of Mexico Drive and critically injured, though initially survived.

A permanent sign posted at the entrance includes a rule that reads, “Canine and human visitors enter at their own risk, the Town of Longboat Key cannot be responsible for injuries to visiting dogs, their owners, or others using the park.”

Still, town leaders are considering modifications to the fence.

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