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Longboat Key Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019 1 year ago

The Lido mob wins

The developers’ withdrawal of their Lido Beach Pavilion plans will be a Pyrrhic victory. In the end, all the city’s residents will lose.
by: Matt Walsh Editor & CEO

The mob won. And truth be damned.

While watching this saga unfold over the past three years, it didn’t take much to predict Monday’s outcome: The partners of Lido Beach Redevelopment LLC decided it wasn’t worth the aggravation, untruths, abuse and torment to continue pursuing the redevelopment of the city of Sarasota’s dilapidated, deteriorating Lido Beach Pavilion.

It wasn’t worth fighting the mob to redevelop this declining city landmark into an attractive amenity for decades to come and for the entire city of Sarasota and all who visit here. 

That’s one of the most ironic aspects of this story. The proposal that partners Troy Syprett and Gavin Meshad put forth contained all of the features and amenities that a committee of the Lido Residents Association requested more than four years ago. 

Just look at the record. The residents lamented the state of the pavilion, pool and surroundings. They told the city it was underutilized and undermarketed. Its committee gave the city plans that included words advocating “increased revenues” from such amenities as cabana rentals. They wanted covered restaurant seating, a Tiki bar, splash pad, playground and amphitheater.

“This wasn’t our idea,” Meshad told us. 

But as Sarasota natives and two of the city’s next-gen entrepreneurs, Meshad and Syprett were drawn to the project first and foremost out of sentiment. 

“What a great opportunity for two kids who grew up here to be in a project that could last as a legacy,” Meshad said. “We can improve it to last through our lifetimes and benefit the community.”

Meshad recalled being a regular at the Lido Beach Pavilion with his grandmother when he was 3 years old. And he told us as he did three months ago how he and Syprett have been mystified how the Lido Beach neighbors would think it would be in Meshad and Syprett’s interests to develop the pavilion in a way that would offend the people they would want as regular customers.

But then came along what we so often see everywhere in Florida and certainly in this region: the vocal minority mob. Its tactics fit our times. As Meshad said: “Whatever it takes to incite the crowd.”

Take the contents of Sarasota activist Cathy Antunes’ online petition opposing the project — craftily spun with inflammatory, embellished, hyperbolic, unverified untruths. To wit:

“… Site plan changes which will transform Lido Pavilion into a late night tiki bar, destination restaurant and private $100/day cabana facility, creating an exclusive club atmosphere and monopolizing parking. The proposed changes are a de facto privatization and are incompatible with a public beach amenity.

“Parking demands would surge even more if special events, like weddings, take place on the proposed lawn. The changes are untenable due to parking issues alone.” 

And this, the coup de grace of inciting the mob: 

“Unreasonable fees and monopolized parking will prevent Sarasota families from enjoying a facility that belongs to them. The applicants, Troy Syprett and Gavin Meshad, have connections to other businesses in Sarasota. Mr. Syprett operates the Daiquiri Deck. Mr. Meshad’s father, attorney John Meshad, is the registered agent for One Palm LLC, which owns the Aloft Hotel. Hotels have been eyeing the Lido Pavilion as an adjunct site for their guests. They want to be like the Ritz-Carlton, which offers its guests access to the Ritz-Carlton Beach Club on Lido.”

Of course, Antunes’ petition offered no verification of the accusation that the Aloft Hotel or other hotels “have been eyeing” the pavilion for their guests.

Not to be outdone, a flier spread around St. Armands Circle tried to have its recipients believe the new parking garage at St. Armands was not for the retail district’s patrons but would be a hub to shuttle partygoers to and from the Lido Beach Pavilion.

“I’m thinking: ‘How can anyone believe this stuff?’” Meshad told us. “It doesn’t matter how many times we dispel these things. It doesn’t stop. Before we knew it, we were turned into villains. I looked at Troy and said, ‘What are we doing?’ Let’s not create any more animosity. Let’s unwind it.”

For Antunes, the alleged 5,300 who signed the online petition and the Lido pavilion neighbors who opposed the project: Mission accomplished.

But for the Lido Key Residents Association, which started this whole process, telling the city the pavilion was an eyesore: six years wasted. For Syprett and Meshad: four years wasted, along with the thousands of their money invested in legal and design fees and the opportunity cost — what they could have done in that time instead.

For those who opposed the project, in particular the nearby neighbors, this likely will be a Pyrrhic victory. The process for upgrading the Lido Beach Pavilion will start again from scratch. Years will go by. And even if Ocean Properties, owner of the Lido Beach Resort and Lido Holiday Inn, becomes the next developer, you can be sure its proposal will be scaled down with fewer amenities. 

In the end, everyone will have lost — all 52,000 city of Sarasota residents; the visitors who go to Lido Beach; and the neighbors who want a better pavilion. 

What those residents really want is what amounts to their own private beach — at their fellow citizens’ expense. A beach pavilion that will not be as good as it could or should be.

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