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Longboat Key Tuesday, May 19, 2020 4 months ago

Longboat Key Tennis Center loosens restrictions

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The Tennis Center will be open longer and the facility will offer singles-only lessons.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

Slowly, the Longboat Key Public Tennis Center is easing restrictions, though the town is still monitoring changes in COVID-19 data before making other changes at other sites. 

On Monday, the tennis center’s hours of operations were extended, and the facility will offer singles-only tennis lessons in the afternoons by  appointment.

Hours now are 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 7:30 a.m. to noon on weekends.

The tennis center reopened May 8 to singles-play-only after closing March 22 because of concerns related to the coronavirus.

The recreational facilities at Bayfront Park have been closed since March 22.

Public beach parking and recreational facilities, such as Bayfront Park pickleball, remain closed. 

Town Manager Tom Harmer issued an executive order Friday that keeps the town’s public beach access parking and the recreational facilities at Bayfront Park closed. The order will be reevaluated no later than May 31.

On Monday evening, Sarasota city leaders voted to reopen Lido Beach, as of Tuesday morning. 

Last week, Manatee County commissioners approved dropping two-hour parking time limits at the county’s public beaches. Earlier this month, beach parking reopened at Sarasota County public beaches.  

Before making an executive order on behalf of the town, Harmer said he regularly has conversations with Longboat Key’s department heads, including Fire Chief Paul Dezzi, whom Harmer designated as the town’s emergency manager.

Dezzi has held weekly conference calls with town stakeholders to outline what the town is doing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“I think it’s a team effort,” Harmer said. “Dezzi is in a lead role at my direction, but it’s a team effort.”

Externally, Harmer consults with the Florida Department of Health and Sarasota County Emergency Management.

Harmer said he also takes the town’s demographics into consideration. About 69% of Longboat Key’s full-time residents are at least 65 years old.

The Longboat Key Town Commission met virtually using Zoom on May 4.

“I think it’s really just being extra cautious because of our situation out here with the elderly population,” Harmer said. “Minimizing interaction from others, not encouraging an overabundance of visitors to interact with our vulnerable population — and so being extra careful is one of the guiding principles that we’re using and that I’m using.

“We do observe what others are doing around us, and we know that the Key Club has had some restrictions in place for some time with tennis. And that has, apparently, been successful because we haven’t had a number of active positives out here. So [we’re] looking to see what’s worked and letting that play out a little bit and not feeling over rushed into making a decision.”

Longboat Key's public beach access parking lots are closed until further notice.

The town is planning to hold virtual meetings over Zoom for the remainder of the month.

Harmer said he also expects the June 1 Town Commission meeting to be held virtually.

“I think for the June 1 meeting, if we were asked today, I would say that I’d recommend that it still be a virtual meeting, but we’ve got a little bit of time,” Harmer said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that restaurants and retail businesses can operate at 50% of normal capacity starting Monday. Gyms and fitness centers will also be allowed to operate as long as the businesses follow social distancing and other guidelines.

“I don’t know that there’s a next in order,” Harmer said. “I think you may see two or three things at the same time. You may see that we start to open up some of our facilities and then maybe address some of our closed parking areas, but that all may happen in a parallel fashion.”

Slowly, the town will begin to reopen.

“We know that ultimately, as things continue to improve, that we need to open more and more, but I just personally want to make sure we do that cautiously [and] carefully,” Harmer said. “This is not a time to be overly aggressive with our population. There’s no right answer, and someone has to make a decision. I’m comfortable being a cautious decision-maker in these types of emergencies.”

Harmer expressed his appreciation for residents’ patience.

“We know that [there are] inconveniences out there, but we also know that obviously, what they’ve been doing over the past month or so has worked,” Harmer said. “And so we all just need to be patient a little bit more as we sort through some of this recovery phase.”

Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

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