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Longboat Key Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019 6 months ago

Longboat Key Year in Review: 2019

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Take a look back through the past year of news, features and fun.
by: Eric Garwood Managing Editor

Take a stroll through the year's biggest stories, most emotional moments and best photos of 2019 on Longboat Key. 

Longboat Key’s wish list of transportation improvement projects included a connection of the town’s multiuse trail from Broadway Street to the Longboat Pass bridge.

January

16: Keep on riding

Longboat Key’s wish list of transportation improvement projects included a connection of the town’s multiuse trail from Broadway Street to the Longboat Pass bridge. The trail on the east side of Gulf of Mexico Drive crosses Broadway Street and runs north to a crosswalk, where it transitions to the west side of the highway. The proposal would establish a 10-foot wide multiuse trail to fill the gap on the east side of GMD to Longboat Pass.

19: Living and learning 

The town resurrected its Citizens Academy in 2019 and immediately drew a big enough response to persuade leaders to offer it again in 2020. The town had initially planned for 25 people, but 32 showed up and no one was turned away. Participants learned about all aspects of Longboat Key town government and how individual departments run. 

Potential parkers examine a kiosk with the help of a Sarasota staffer in St. Armands Circle.

February

14: Bring money

St. Armands Circle's parking garage and paid street parking launched to a little bit of initial confusion about how the curbside machines worked, but acceptance and routine use weren't far behind. One of the main initial sticking points was a patron's need to know the license number of their car, often forcing users to return to their cars to jot down the information. The city of Sarasota had helpers on hand in the early days to assist users. 

17: Renovations finished

Mar Vista, a fixture for decades at 760 Broadway St. on the the northern end of Longboat Key, completed a $2 million renovation that includes a state-of-the-art kitchen, second-story office space and storage, more outdoor seating, a new entrance, fireplace and covered walkway. 

 

The former Amore Restaurant building is torn down.

23: So long, Amore

Crews began tearing down the building that housed the Amore Restaurant, clearing the land for the town's planned development, along with Ringling College, of its privately financed Arts, Culture and Education Center. About two months later, Ringling President Larry Thompson informed the town the college was reconsidering its partnership. The Amore land was ultimately cleared and leveled, and hosted in December a town tree-lighting ceremony, and a concert series is planned for the first four months of 2020. 

March

14: Where for art thou?

As a whole, we typically don't like photos of people backs. In this case, we didn't want to photograph the ROMEOS any other way. The lunch group for men of a certain age (Retired Men Eating Out) gather each month at Spanish Main and carpool to a mystery location to eat and kibbitz. To keep the group organized and the mood light, the men established a list of 16 rules. Among them: Chain restaurants should be avoided; complaining is not allowed and no drinking is allowed until all members have their beverage and a traditional salute of tapping glasses has been done.

28: Gotcha!

A new breed of ultra-refined coyotes, perfectly suited for Longboat Key? A traffic circle test track? A technology breakthrough in mini-cell towers? Jokes, all of them part of the Observer's frequently imitated (maybe not) but never duplicated April Fool's edition. To be fair, we always own up to the fun on a page between the funny and real pages.

Officer of the year Sgt. Lee Smith is honored at police headquarters.

29: Officer of the year

Sgt. Lee Smith of the Longboat Key Police Department was named the department's officer of the year in a ceremony at the police station. The veteran officer summed up his job and responsibilities simply: "There’s always going to be bad days here and there, but I’m one of those fortunate people who gets to do a job he loves.’’

April

17: 50 years of gardening

The Longboat Key Garden Club celebrated its 50th anniversary at Joan M. Durante Park where they awarded grants and scholarships.

18: Shell we celebrate?

The Longboat Key Turtle Watch celebrated its 50th anniversary in April. From humble beginnings in 1969, today the organization patrols the shoreline to spot and protect nests and keep vital counts that help assess the health of the overall sea turtle populations.
 

May

4: Cleaning up

A group of 75 volunteers got an early start for the annual Sisters Keys cleanup. 

June 

Children scour the water for examples of living things to examine.

1: Citizen scientists

Dozens of people young and old took to Sarasota Bay for the county's annual seagrass survey, in which the general health of the ecosystem can be compared to years past. Fanning out from City Island, the surveyors dove underwater in predetermined spots. Children not yet old enough for the actual survey work had their own brand of underwater fun. 

3: Governing in the sunshine

It was a real Town Commission meeting but without the trappings of Town Hall. Town staff, commissioners and residents took a tour of the land destined to become the Town Center Green, with Public Works Director Isaac Brownman leading the way. 

13: Save our bank

A wave of grassroots support for a local bank branch failed to sway Ameris Bank, the owners of the town's Fidelity Bank office, from shutting down the Longboat Key location in favor of one on the mainland. Fueled by Michael Garey, a petition drive raised awareness and demonstrated loyalty, but in the end, the office in the Center Shoppes closed in September.

Mini reefs are installed in the water under the docks of Mar Vista Dockside.

31: Doing their part

In a ceremony at Mar Vista Dockside, David Wolff and his son did what they could to help water quality. They installed 10 of their company's mini-reefs, contraptions that bob just under the waves and are designed to attract so-called filter-feeders that naturally clean water while attached to the reefs. With better water quality, larger and more advanced marine animals are attracted. While not a solution to rehab large swaths of water, the mini-reefs do have an effect within a few yards of their installation. 

Irina LaRose and Steve Howard.

July

4: Freedom!

If you were in town on Independence Day, you were probably at the annual Freedom Fest, which features a Small Town USA style parade. Heck, if you were in town on Independence Day, you were probably IN Freedom Fest's parade, like Irina LaRose and Steve Howard.

Digging began in July and spread around the island throughout the summer.

22: Dig it

The town's $49.1 million project to bury utility cables islandwide dug its first hole midday at the southern end of Gulf of Mexico Drive. The project since then has proceeded largely according to plan, on budget and a bit ahead of schedule. Inadvertent strikes of underground gas lines prompted closures of Gulf of Mexico Drive for hours, but progress has been steady and safe since the summer. 

August

12: Namaste

Yoga is supposed to be relaxing. Sharks, well, let's just say they don't exactly foster a soothing atmosphere. Unless you're looking at them through thick glass. Then, yes, they do move with a certain elegance and grace. That was the idea behind Yoga with the Sharks at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium. 

16: Sold!

After being on the market for more than five years, the Ohana estate on Longboat Key sold for $11.4 million. It marks the largest single-family home sale in Manatee County. The sale was the largest on the Key this year, with the second-highest sale coming from a home in the Longboat Key Club's Regents Court, which sold in April for $7.5 million.

31: Hurricane? We're racin'

With a nasty hurricane swirling off Florida's east coast, a pack of hearty sailors battled each other here on the west coast during the Sarasota Sailing Squadron's Labor Day Regatta. A lot of teams from the east coast cancelled their trips, but the ones that did take part enjoyed near perfect conditions in Sarasota Bay.

Dorian threatened but didn't strike.

September

3: Dorian gray days

Town officials took the erratic path of Hurricane Dorian seriously, keeping residents up to date on what was happening with the powerful storm as it approached from the Atlantic Ocean. In the end, the local effects were negligible, though some beach erosion was noted after the storm's trek up the east coast. 

11: Paying tribute

Parks supervisor Mark Richardson and team of about 10 again fulfilled the town tradition of honoring the 2,977 killed in the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks by placing 2,977 flags along Gulf of Mexico Drive.

Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore is interviewed for a film on the oyster industry.

21: Roll 'em

A film crew from Tallahassee, working on a documentary on the oyster industry, paid a visit to Longboat Key to gather footage and interview local leaders on an innovative project that seeks to reverse a troubling trend. Restaurant entrepreneur Ed Chiles for years has backed an effort to divert oyster shells from landfills, instead returning them to the water to help the species regenerate and naturally filter the surrounding waters. 

26: High drama in high definition

If you watch town meetings via streaming video, you've noticed something new. It appears a little more sophisticated, thanks to a new operation the town runs itself. Beginning in September, the town began producing the video feed itself, with a high-definition picture, more camera angles to choose from and more. Barry Gaines, the town's IT specialist, is often the guy running the board for the productions.

October

Father Dave Marshall blesses a dog.

3: Blessed be the pets

The tradition of pet blessings is a new one to All Angels Episcopal Church, but it's a well-documented tradition around the world during the Feast of St. Francis, who is the patron saint of animals and the environment. Father Dave Marshall came from a church that did this every year but got bewildered looks at the event's first mention. But the inaugural blessing was a big hit. 

 7: Getting to know each other

In several shifts over several days, members of the Longboat Key Fire Department paid a visit to their colleagues a few miles inland at the Sarasota County Emergency Operations Center. They chatted in person with the folks with which they routinely communicate via the radio — and under far calmer conditions. It was all part of a cross-training plan that earlier in the year saw Operations Center personnel visit Longboat Key to become better familiar with the town's landmarks and first-responders. 

12: Not just a car show

Style and classic car design shared the spotlight in St. Armands Circle when the Suncoast Jaguar Club came to town with its Concours d'Elegance. The car watching was superb, and the people watching about the same. 

Traffic backs up on Bradenton Beach.

17: The worst intersection on the beach

As local and regional leaders struggle to solve a perennial problem with traffic, one thing is clear. Choke points north and south of Longboat Key have a detrimental effect on the key. Transportation leaders identified a list of projects that might help as part of the Barrier Island Traffic Study, and those projects are now up to local jurisdictions to implement. One site nearly everyone agrees needs help is the intersection of Gulf Drive and Cortez Road, but there are few options. 

William Klick, an 18-year Longboater, met the first family of football last summer at a football camp in Louisiana.

18: Meet the Mannings

William Klick, an 18-year Longboater, met the first family of football last summer at a football camp in Louisiana. As part of the Make a Wish program, Klick and his family traveled to Thibodaux to see quarterback Eli Manning but ended up spending time with dad Archie and brother Peyton as well.  Over two years, it took balancing the schedules of both families and getting the Mannings to welcome the Klicks to the camp, which runs a tightly packed schedule. His wish finally came true over the final weekend of June.  

 29: Haven't I seen you on a beer bottle

Rodney and Allison Boyd, and a bunch of their tennis playing buddies, gathered at the Public Tennis Center for a welcome back get-together that also happened to fall around Halloween. So, the St. Pauli Girl costumes were quite appropriate. They were costumes, right? 

November

Chase Opela, the department's firefighter of the year.

7: A time to say thanks

Fire Chief Paul Dezzi took some time on a Monday morning to say thanks: thanks to citizens who have helped the department in the last year, colleagues and staffer in other departments and members of his own team. Dozens of people walked away from the ceremony at Town Hall with a certificate or plaque, including Chase Opela, the department's firefighter of the year. 

15: Man of the hour

Before the luminaries could be welcomed, and there were a lot of them, it was former Longboater Bill Kelley's turn to shine. The World War II veteran and D-Day survivor led the Republican Party of Sarasota County in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Then the banquet could get on with the business of honoring Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina as its Statesman of the Year. Kelley said next to Graham for the remainder of the banquet.

16: Looking a lot like Christmas

Stockings, fully-decorated Christmas trees and wreaths decked the halls of St. Mary Star of the Sea Church as it hosted its annual Christmas Bazaar. Money made from the bazaar, which totaled about $11,000, and the church's annual rummage sale is donated to various area charities. 

Town Manager Tom Harmer and Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce President Gail Loefgren push the button on to light the trees.

30: Light 'em up

The town and the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce hosted more than 100 people on the former Amore Restaurant property for a tree-lighting ceremony. Civic groups also joined in on the fun. 

 

December

2: Steering for a solution

In an ongoing effort to stay ahead of speeders and parking violators, Town Commissioners in early December made a few adjustments to town regulations, making it easier for police officers to write parking tickets that stick. Town leaders and residents of the neighborhood continue to work toward solutions.

(Photographs and reporting by Nat Kaemmerer, Katie Johns, Brynn Mechem, Sten Spinella and Eric Garwood)

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