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Longboat Key Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013 4 years ago

OUR VIEW: Priceless opportunity


Déjà vu.

As this was being composed, the scene at the Manatee County Convention Center rekindled memories — those tiring days of the Longboat Key Town Commission hearings over the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s proposed $400 million redevelopment and expansion plan.

Only this time, the crowd in Manatee was more demonstrative, with its costumes and banners.

But it’s the same thing: Emotional, vocal opposition rushing over reason like a high-tide storm.

As we bumped up against our deadline, Manatee commissioners were letting the people speak — on whether the commission should amend the county’s comprehensive plan in two places. A “yes” vote would allow the developers of Long Bar Pointe — longtime Manatee and Sarasota residents Carlos Beruff and Larry Lieberman — to submit an application for a review of their proposed master plan for Long Bar Pointe.

Instead of the existing approval for 1,658 dwelling units and 150,000 square feet of neighborhood retail space, Beruff and Lieberman want to create a mixed-use, residential and resort-hotel community. They envision Manatee County’s only four-star destination on the county’s bayfront and virtually adjacent to one of Manatee’s most important economic assets — IMG Academies, a growing economic engine in its own right.

Predictably, the anti-everything-related-to-development environmentalists and “I-have-mine-but-you-can’t-have-yours” Luddites were on site en masse at Tuesday’s public hearing. This is always so amusing (and sad).

They wave their anti-development, save-the-earth placards and plea passionately about a coming environmental and food-chain armageddon without giving one nanno second to their hypocrisy. It’s OK for them to live in their canal homes or their inland residential development; to drive their gasoline-powered cars; to cruise the bay in their boats; to play golf on pesticide-treated turf; to irrigate their lawns with acquifer-drawn water; and to burn oil-generated electricity to run their flouro-carbon air-conditioners. But it’s not OK for others to come here after them and do the same.

The oppositionists apparently block out the fact every piece of dirt in their neighborhood or the streets they drive on at one time were environmentally pristine scrub. And for them to be where they are today, they seem to forget that a developer — the people they disdain — converted that pristine land into a livable community, allowing all of them to choose this area to live productive lives.

Red-herring: traffic
But it will create too much traffic, they moan.

What is too much? Have you been to downtown Miami lately? How about north Atlanta? New York City? Bangkok?

This is not traffic here. It’s all relative.

If you have traffic, it means your community has attributes that attract people. The more people, the more choices and opportunities — in jobs, shopping, restaurants and the like. The more people, the more advanced the quality of life.

If the environmentalists defeated every proposed development they oppose, we would be living in caves and thatched huts, primitive natives concerned with the daily hunt for food.

Traffic is a red-herring.

Capitalism as it should be
Developers are greedy demons.

This is how they are portrayed. Some have been demons. But they don’t last.

Today is also different.

Developers today are environmentalists, as much, if not more so, than the environmentalists who oppose them.

They know they must develop in ways that mitigate and improve the environment on which they build. The market demands this.

Indeed, protecting and improving Long Bar Pointe and its surrounding’s environment is in the selfish and moral interest of Carlos Beruff and Larry Lieberman. They know that if they don’t do that, their reputations and livelihood will be ruined.

And if you find that difficult to believe, don’t.

Do you know them?

They practice capitalism in the best sense of the term. They worked hard as young men and worked their ways into positions to risk all they owned to pursue their dreams: build successful, respected businesses.

Lieberman started his in 1974. Since then, he has spent the past 39 years rehabilitating and building apartments in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Michigan and Texas. His business has survived and thrived through at least five housing recessions. He is a behind-the-scenes donor to local charities.

Beruff, son of Cuban emigres, has lived and worked in Manatee County for 35 years. His company has been supplying consumers in this market with single-family homes since 1984 — 29 years. He, too, is a survivor.

And a giver … to many locally in need.

The longevity of their businesses is a strong statement. It says they have provided housing that consumers trust — housing that consumers voluntarily purchase because they believe it is a fair trade. In the same vein, Beruff and Lieberman know that if they don’t provide that fair exchange, they will fail. This is capitalism: Both sides win.

Beruff and Lieberman also know Long Bar Pointe is a unique, gem of a property. If you talk to them, you will sense they have violated one of the cardinal rules of real estate: They’ve fallen in love with the property.
As such, Beruff says, Long Bar Pointe should be developed in a way that is worthy of the site — not, as he says, with a “routine subdivision.”

Talk to Beruff, and he will tell you Long Bar Pointe is one of the last opportunities to create a stunning environmental and economic legacy for West Manatee County.
Don’t demonize the developers.

Look at Longboat Key
As this edition heads off to the presses, the conventional wisdom of Manatee County Commission watchers was that they would reject at least one, if not both, of the comprehensive-plan amendments Beruff and Lieberman are seeking. Too many commissioners fear the consequences for their own futures if they vote “yes.”

But if the commissioners end Tuesday voting “no,” it will be a Pyrrhic Victory for the opponents. Long Bar Pointe still will be developed. But the county commissioners will have used the law as an excuse to squander a once-in-their-lifetime opportunity to enhance far into the future the economic welfare and prosperity of their constituents.

Have vision. The opportunity to leverage Long Bar Pointe into greater wealth for the community is palpable. IMG Academies nearby is on a mission to create the No. 1 sports training facilities in the world. Long Bar Pointe can be crucial to those efforts. Think of what it would do economically for Manatee County.

If commissioners could have put aside all of the emotions of the Long Bar opponents and just looked across Long Bar Pointe to Longboat Key, they could see what Long Bar Pointe could mean. Look at all the good the Longboat Key Club and Resort has contributed to the general welfare and prosperity of Longboat Key, Sarasota and beyond. It’s priceless.


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