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Longboat Key Thursday, Jul. 25, 2019 2 months ago

Involvement was in Dave Brenner's DNA

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Over the past 25 years, almost everywhere you turned on Longboat Key, David Brenner was involved, giving to make the town a better place.
by: Matt Walsh Editor & CEO

The list is impressive. 

Actually, it’s more than that when you think of all this one man did, all the time involved, the effort and with no pay, as a volunteer, and rarely, if ever, a thank you in return. 

It’s a long list. But you have to read it to appreciate how important David Brenner was and is to the modern history of Longboat Key. Brenner died last week. His imprint on this town runs deep: 

  • Elected and served on the Longboat Key Town Commission, 2010-2014;
  • Appointed and member, Longboat Key Planning and Zoning Board, 2006-2009;
  • Co-founder of the Longboat Key Foundation;
  • Chairman and founder, Longboat Key Economic Development Council, a division of the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce, in the mid-2000s;
  • Leading advocate and participant in the Longboat Key Vision plan, 2006-2007;
  • Leading advocate in the creation of the Longboat Key Center for Healthy Living medical center, 2016;
  • 30-year active member, Temple Beth Israel;
  • Leader of a multiyear effort to have two permeable groins installed near the Islander Club to preserve the club and surrounding properties’ eroding beach;
  • Recruited candidates for the Town Commission;
  • Served on the Town Commission through one of its most tumultuous periods: the volatile hearings on the Longboat Key Club’s $400 million expansion plan (ultimately stopped and abandoned), closing of the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort (and its aftermath), resignation of longtime Town Manager Bruce St. Denis, death of police Chief Al Hogle in a motorcycle accident and hiring of former Town Manager David Bullock;
  • Advocated for and helped create citizen-led committees during the recession to look for ways in all of the town’s operating departments to save money and become more efficient;
  • Was one of three key members of the planning and zoning board that led a community-wide effort to adopt two controversial referenda in 2008; and
  •  Maintained a constant presence at regional government meetings to ensure Sarasota and Manatee counties’ elected officials did not forget Longboat Key. Former Longboat Observer Town Hall reporter Kurt Schultheis told us: “Even though he was never mayor, I dare say he attended more functions and meetings on and off the island than the mayor. That man was everywhere and knew everyone.” 

Brenner and fellow planning board members Sandy Gilbert and Jim Brown (later Longboat’s four-term mayor), along with Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce President Gail Loefgren and a team of chamber board members, conducted 36 presentations up and down the island to educate voters on the proposed charter amendments.

One of the amendments was to change Longboat Key’s laws that prevented nonconforming condominiums, hotels and resorts to be rebuilt to their current densities in the event of being destroyed. The amendment would allow them to be rebuilt as before.

The second amendment created a pool of 250 tourism units that hotel operators could apply for and add to their facilities. This was an effort to keep and help revive Longboat’s tourism business in the wake of sweeping condo conversions and the shutdown of the former Holiday Inn. 

Although both amendments might not seem that dramatic now, at the time these two questions touched on the most volatile issue on Longboat Key: density. Longboaters up to then and still now have been notoriously opposed to increased residential or tourist densities. 

But Brenner and his partners made such a convincing case for how these measures were essential to the vitality, future and value of people’s properties that voters overwhelmingly approved both measures — by margins of 90% and 81% in favor.

Indeed, the outcome of that election marked a historical turning point on Longboat Key: The economic atmosphere and climate and the attitude of residents have changed for the better. Residents accept and know the Key needs its hotels and resorts. 

We probably have left out some of Brenner’s contributions to the Key. For most of them, Brenner operated without fanfare, nor did he seek to garner public accolades. Brenner, in fact, was one of those rarest of gems — a good man whose heart and soul cared deeply about the welfare of his community. Even in his waning days, Brenner called us twice in one week to urge this newspaper to bring to the public ideas and issues for the good of the Key. 

“Out of all of the commissioners I ever met, no one seemed to care more about Longboat Key,” said Schultheis, who covered the Town Commission for nearly a decade.

If you knew David Brenner, you knew he liked a good quip; he liked to dish out a funny comeback to a comment; he liked to laugh. But he was also quiet and thoughtful, a keen observer when the moment called for it. You could see behind the twinkle in his eyes in those moments that he was thinking and computing beyond the here and now.

David Brenner had a special DNA. After retiring as a managing partner from Arthur Young at age 47 in Philadelphia, former Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode Sr. persuaded Brenner to serve as his director of commerce. Brenner was Goode’s first appointment. Goode was quoted at the time saying Brenner was “the best mind I could find.”

Brenner left office in 1986. A short time later, Goode called on Brenner again, this time to serve as the city’s finance director and help keep it from going bankrupt.

When Brenner and his wife, Maggie, came to Longboat Key, they played tennis and became regulars in the region’s cultural scene. But in time, the community called. Brenner could not resist; it was in his DNA “to make things better.” 

David Brenner made a lasting mark — in Philadelphia and on Longboat Key. In the annals of Longboat history, he will have a lasting place. We are grateful. Belatedly, he deserves that thank you. He will be missed.

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