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Longboat Key Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2009 12 years ago

My View: Key Club project crucial to our lifestyle

by: Michael Saunders

With its two best-known resort hotels — The Colony Beach & Tennis Resort and the Longboat Key Club and Resort — at perilous crossroads in their storied existences, Longboat Key is at something of a crossroad of its own.

As someone with deep roots on the Key, who has watched it grow and is proud of what it has become, I have long understood the symbiotic relationship between our enviable lifestyle and having two such legendary resorts strategically located in our own backyard.

The caliber of guests these two properties consistently deliver to our coveted strand of paradise cannot be ignored. They constitute the proverbial goose that laid the golden egg for Longboat Key, with that “nest egg” being the high-quality demographic of their customers, who frequently become enamored of the lifestyle and go full-circle to become homeowners, business owners, taxpayers and major contributors to the cultural and philanthropic life of our island community.

The Longboat way of living is just about as golden as you’re apt to find anywhere. That’s why I am so distressed that both resorts are suddenly in danger of becoming footnotes to the enviable lifestyle they helped create.

The Colony, once the undisputed crown jewel of destination tennis resorts, has shuttered its hotel operations; its 240 rooms devoid of guests who might otherwise be spending money on our restaurants, retail establishments, cultural institutions and other resort services — both on and off the island.

If increased vehicular traffic is perceived to be the major problem in permitting thoughtful, top-quality new development on Longboat Key, then opponents of it should be vastly relieved. We just said good-bye to an awful lot of cars, their owners and their tourist dollars. This comes not all that long after we said good-bye to the Holiday Inn, with 250 guest rooms, along with any number of smaller, family-run beach resorts. For the most part, these were all replaced by new, lower-density residential development that put far fewer cars on the road, most of them seasonal. A Florida DOT study found that there has actually been a 25% decrease in the traffic count on Gulf of Mexico Drive at its southern end since the year 2000.

Meanwhile, the Longboat Key Club and Resort is making one final attempt to expand its behind-the-gates residential opportunities and upgrade its aging amenities to remain competitive among guests financially empowered to vacation anywhere they please. If rejected in this latest long and costly effort to win approval to improve its own property, the Key Club’s management group plans to abandon further efforts and carry on as best it can.

As anyone knows who has ever owned a business targeted to serving the needs of a high-end clientele, simply maintaining the status quo while your competition waltzes across the cutting edge is akin to a slow and painful death. The property’s reputation invariably will decline; the quality of its guests will diminish; and its value and viability to any future owner will plummet. If the current owners decide someday to cut their losses and sell, how many responsible buyers will queue up to purchase an aging resort property knowing full well they will be swept up in a battle royale every time they seek to make improvements?

I hate even to contemplate another owner for the Longboat Key Club and Resort. The present one is already well known to us as a good and responsible corporate citizen of Longboat Key, with a well-documented history of making stellar improvements to the property. Not to mention making significant contributions to the cultural and philanthropic life of our community.

Just two weeks ago, former President Bill Clinton stayed, played golf, strolled the beach and was otherwise completely pampered at the resort before speaking to benefit the Ringling College Library Association. The Key Club, as it does for so many other worthy causes, stepped up, hosted the former president and his sizable entourage and, in doing so, helped raise a substantial sum of money for the library.

In this era of bailouts, the Key Club isn’t asking for one. It is simply seeking permission to make more efficient use of its own property to generate the revenue necessary to upgrade its amenities, keep the property in peak condition and remain competitive in what will no doubt be a challenging economy for many seasons to come. Moreover, the redevelopment proposal is consistent with the town of Longboat Key’s comprehensive plan and town code and is well within the density parameters allowed by the Gulf Planned Development zoning district.

Longboat Key is our area’s only real answer to the premier oceanfront destinations of Palm Beach, Naples and Miami Beach. High-end travelers who choose these destinations have expectations to match; and the Longboat Key Club and Resort is attempting to stay current with consumer preference. People stay where they are happiest and best served. As well, new development of this type is consistent with our residents’ expressed desire to maintain a healthy commercial component on the Key. A rising tide lifts all boats.

I have an awful lot of Longboat Key sand in my shoes and adore the longstanding traditions and all things vintage about our island. I also embrace positive change and responsible new development where it makes sense to maintain our quality of life and competitive edge.

As we stand at the crossroad — with one of our finest resorts on the precipice of failure and the other with its hands tied — I ask all who oppose Longboat Key Club’s desire to inject more jobs into our hobbled economy, cash flow into our struggling businesses and revenue into our withering tax base to think about more than the momentary inconvenience that might be caused by a few extra cars.

Please join me in advocating for approval of the Key Club’s privately financed redevelopment plan.

Michael Saunders grew up at Lands End on the north end of Longboat Key. She is founder and CEO of Michael Saunders & Co.



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