Businesses and condos spruce up and staff up for bigger crowds to come.
October on Longboat Key is when the humidity and afternoon downpours begin to take a break and all those autumn colors begin to change.
Not the leaves, the license plates.
With the population of the island poised to triple in size in the coming months, condominiums, small businesses and even the town itself are sprucing up for the arrival of the first wave. Early sightings of the ubiquitous car haulers have been reported, dropping off their loads while —sometimes — parked illegally in Gulf of Mexico’s center lane.
Businesses say their seasonal visitors appear undeterred by the red tide outbreak earlier this summer that is still lingering off Longboat’s coast, though the effects of the toxic algae have been less noticeable in recent weeks.
“A minimal number of people have canceled,” said Dia Wilson, a Longboat Realtor and manager of Wagner Realty Longboat Key. “The red tide has not affected us. I had two people come in today.’’
At the Blue Dolphin Café on Gulf of Mexico Drive, Manager Jeanine Stebbins said the eatery’s walls have been painted and new artwork has been added.
The restaurant, popular with Longboat’s breakfast and lunch crowds, will add six people to its 10-person roster by January as part of its seasonal upswing.
“We’ll be adding one person in October, two in November, that sort of thing,” said Stebbins, waving around the mostly empty restaurant. “By January, you won’t recognize this place.”
Added Nejama Gomez, a Blue Dolphin waitress, “The people are definitely beginning to come back.”
The Dry Dock Waterfront Grill, also on Gulf of Mexico Drive, recently rolled out its new $200,000-plus renovation of its dining room and bar area. The restaurant, which closes for two weeks in late summer, remained closed an extra three days to ensure work was completed. Also, The Chart House is spending $500,000 updating its interior, something the restaurant has not done in decades. The work is being done overnight, after the restaurant closes, to ensure diners will not be disturbed, said Dean Diorides, Chart House’s general manager.
The town of Longboat Key keeps its buildings in good shape year-round and did not do anything significant this year for its returning residents and visitors, said Public Works Director Isaac Brownman.
“Our buildings are in good condition from an exterior look and feel standpoint; we do not have plans of painting,” Brownman said in an email. “We always maintain the rights-of-way in clean-cut condition. The winter months have less need for mowing frequency by nature.”
Longboat Key police recently added a veteran, part-time police officer to its force, giving the town one part-time officer, 18-full time officers, and one volunteer who serves mostly as a boat patrol officer.
The part-time officer started earlier this month.
Longboat Fire Rescue begins seeing a rise in calls for service beginning in mid-October, Chief Paul Dezzi said, which peaks in March. His department is staffed consistently throughout the year with eight to 11 firefighters on duty at any time, working in training sessions during any downtime.
Some of the town’s condominium buildings, built in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, are also working on their appearance as their residents begin returning.
At the Bayport Beach & Tennis Club on Bayport Way, where 75% of its condominium owners head north during the summer, there’s a variety of landscaping projects taking place, said Jim Wolf, property manager of the 136-unit residential development.
“We’re spruced up and looking sharp,” he said.
Like with any property management company, Wolf said he began about two weeks ago hearing from winter residents with requests to air our their condominiums before their arrivals.
“They start leaving in April,” Wolf said. “The stuff we do every year is more routine than anything.”
Over at the Villa Di Lancia Condo Associates on Gulf of Mexico Drive, new roofs are getting put on both its buildings, said Gretchen Striker, the property manager.
“We’re trying to make sure it gets done,” said Striker, who couldn’t say how much is being spent on the replacement of the roofs, which are original and date back to 1998. “Hopefully, this will get done in a couple of weeks.”
In addition to the new roofs, a new elliptical machine and two treadmills were added to Villa Di Lancia’s exercise room, she said.
“We had a pretty ambitious schedule this year,” Striker said. “We’ll paint next year.”
Other Longboat Key condominium developments that have launched renovation projects include Seaplace Association, which is renovating its clubhouse for $450,000, That project, targeted for December completion, includes the installation of new doors, new tile, appliances, lighting, artwork and a 24-foot door that opens to the gulf.
Over at Aquarius, just north of the former site of the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort, management sought the cooperation of the demolition contractor to wrap up work on the north end of the property first, before residents began to filter back south.
The Resort at Longboat Key is targeting late November for completion of its south-end entrance project.
This project includes the construction of a new guardhouse, new plants and vegetation and a $100,000 entrance sign. There are also plans for water features that will be surrounded by seasonal plants.