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Founder and Co-Chairman of the Sister Keys Conservancy Rusty Chinnis, former Town Manager Al Cox and Harry Christensen celebrate the town of Longboat Key’s purchase of Sister Keys. Courtesy photo.
Longboat Key Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011 9 years ago

Chinnis reflects on 30 years of changes on Longboat

by: Mallory Gnaegy A&E Editor

When Rusty Chinnis, founder of Rusty Chinnis Contractor Inc., arrived 30 years ago on Longboat Key from Atlantic Beach, the island looked different than it does today.

One of the most obvious changes is the development along the Gulf of Mexico and bayside of the island, he says.

“A lot of the mom-and-pop hotels and motels were being bought out and developed into more upscale condos before the economy (took a turn),” Chinnis says.

He believes that once the economy gets better that that process will continue.

And Chinnis’ company has seen its own changes. He started with home-repair projects and now builds and remodels custom homes.

“I worked from the ground up with just a Volkswagen and a skill saw,” he says.

His first office was in the Village neighborhood across from Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant & Pub; the office building used to be occupied by Ansel McMichen, one of the first builders on Longboat Key.
After 15 years, Chinnis recently moved his business out of its Centre Shops location and is in the process of moving into a new office.

But Chinnis has done more than just build structures on the Key — he’s done his part to conserve the land, as well.

He co-founded the Sister Keys Conservancy in 1989, when Sister Keys went on the market. He and a few other residents wanted to prevent development and to preserve the bay and vegetation on Sister Keys; they raised approximately $50,000 toward purchasing the island of mangroves. It was priced at approximately $1 million, according to Chinnis. The town bought the land a few years later.

Chinnis is also president of Sarasota Bay Watch, a group that protects the bay through a variety of ways. He believes both of these groups have contributed to the health of the bay.

“The bay has more seagrass, which is good, because seagrass filters and cleans water and gives life to living things that feed birds and fish,” he says.

Chinnis believes other businesses should pitch in because he wants the bay to stay healthy.

“People take care of their yards, their cars, their bank accounts; they take care of things that matter to them, and they need to do the same for the bay,” he says.

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