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Opinion
Longboat Key Wednesday, Apr. 24, 2019 6 months ago

Survey results: 'No' to Longboat arts center

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Whoa. Respondents to our online survey about the proposed arts, culture and education center say it's not needed and they don't want to pay for it. Commissioners need to find out more.
by: Matt Walsh Editor & CEO

Surely you’ll find the accompanying survey results revealing.

And, we should say, they’re not surprising.

Last week, we asked readers to answer six questions in an online survey about the much-discussed proposal for an arts, culture and education center on Longboat Key. The results are in the accompanying box.

Mind you, this was not a scientific or professionally sponsored poll. Nor is it a valid sampling of Longboat Key’s 6,990 full-time residents or the 9,000-plus property owners.

Only 100 people responded to our survey. That’s almost as if we sent a reporter to Publix for a day to do what we call “Man on the Street” interviews. 

And let’s add this slight discount, which we know from experience: The people who respond to these types of surveys tend to be passionate about the subject — either for or against. Typically, you don’t hear from the silent majority. 

But having given all of those qualifiers, the results of our survey nonetheless should send some clear, almost shocking, signals to the Longboat Key Town Commission. 

First, here’s what you can glean from the results:

• Longboaters don’t believe the Key needs an arts, culture and education center. “Need” and “want” are different. But with 58% of the respondents saying Longboat Key doesn’t need an arts, culture and education center sends an important message.  

• Those responding definitely do not want a black-box theater.

• They also don’t believe a center can be developed 100% with private funds. And likewise, they don’t want to donate money to fund its development.

• At the same time, for sure they don’t want to be forced to pay for it via taxation.

Whoa. Those are strong messages.

And with those negative responses being as definitive as they appear, the question about the location of a center doesn’t even matter. Our survey suggested only two possible sites. A slight majority of the respondents like the former Amore restaurant site, while 42% preferred neither site we suggested. 

Almost no one favored the site we think makes sense for a community center: Tear down the Longboat Library (the property is underutilized); relocate the adjacent tennis courts next to the existing courts; and create a contiguous town-owned complex.

What do Longboaters want?

That idea has no traction at the moment. Town commissioners are holding on to the vision of creating a walkable town center and promenade along the road that runs between the Bank of America and SunTrust Bank buildings and along the north side of Publix Super Market, complete with the arts, culture and education center, retail, offices and restaurants.

It’s a nice vision. But if this limited survey and history are guides, on a scale of realistic to unrealistic, this vision is a lot closer to unrealistic. Longboaters rejected a $6 million community center about a decade ago. It’s a reasonable guess Longboat taxpayers definitely do not want to be taxed to bring a town center to fruition. If a private developer wants to take it on, they’d say: “Come on down.”

At the least, town commissioners should take our survey responses as impetus to find out more. 

One suggestion that has surfaced toward that would be to use the Amore property once it is graded for outdoor concerts, a la the Concerts in the Park at Joan M. Durante Park, sponsored in the 1990s and early 2000s by the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce. Those concerts would be good times to survey Longboaters on what they want and for what they are willing to pay.

The town also could conduct its own statistically valid surveys. Or go even further: Conduct a non-binding vote in the March 2020 town elections. Such a vote would end all of the guessing.

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