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Longboat Key Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019 1 year ago

Tree lighting, concert series coming to Longboat

Chamber of Commerce, town team up for events on Town Center land.
by: Eric Garwood Managing Editor

Gail Loefgren holds a special memory for Savor the Sounds, a community happening last held in Bayfront Park in 2016.

Part concert series, part town picnic, the event attracted crowds to sit on blankets, folding chairs or something a little more formal and listen to music while catching up with neighbors. It was fun, she said, and successful – often selling out VIP and general admission tickets alike.

So when the town began talking about what to initially program on the Town Center property once first steps toward development were undertaken, Savor the Sounds re-emerged as a possibility.

“We just knew we couldn't do it at Bayfront Park because it was too small,’’ Loefgren, president of the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce, said of the park that was renovated and rebuilt with new amenities in 2017. “We were just actually discussing a location. And I said, ‘well, maybe if this property is ready we can introduce it to the residents.’ And the town said, “Oh, that would be great.’’ ’

So, Savor the Sounds is coming back, beginning in January at the site of the former Amore Restaurant, adjacent to the Shoppes of Bay Isles. Four performances, on the last Saturdays of January, February, March and April, are planned in what is hoped to become an annual series.

And to formally open the season – holiday and winter-visitor – a first-of-its kind event in town is also planned on the same site.

A tree-lighting ceremony, using the existing stately oaks, is planned for Saturday, Nov. 30 -- the weekend after Thanksgiving. The idea, Loefgren said, is to introduce the Amore property and the adjoining property to town residents, get the ball rolling on the possibilities of further use and explain the initial groundwork planned to open up the land and make it useful year-round.

Loefgren said Mayor George Spoll is expected to throw the switch to light the trees, which will then be illuminated through Christmas. Expect a few words from the mayor and other town dignitaries. The free event will also feature some refreshments.

Town officials also plan to use the events to chat with residents and visitors about the ultimate use of the property. With permits now in hand, work is expected to begin in early 2020 on the bigger portion of the overall 4.8 acres, raising it and leveling it to allow for better drainage and broader uses. The town hopes to have that work completed by March.

The land and its ultimate uses have been points of contention since April when Ringling College of Art and Design backed away from a relationship with the town for joint development of an Arts, Culture and Education Center to be funded with about $11 million in privately raised capital.

Bill Konkol, chair of the Chamber of Commerce’s Community Outreach Committee, said each of the monthly Savor the Sounds performances will be themed: January will feature music from the 1950s through 1970s; February will feature country/western music in a Sadie Hawkins theme; March will feature New Orleans-Dixieland music and April will feature “Trop Rock.’’

Loefgren compared Savor the Sounds to something akin to Chicago’s Ravinia Festival, or Tanglewood in Boston. Dignified, but fun. One of the events helped commemorate the town’s 60th anniversary in November 2015, which was to include fireworks. Windy weather prompted officials to move the fireworks to a similar event in early 2016.

“You bring your picnic, you set up a table or on the ground and you bring your tablecloth and your candelabra and your good China and wine and you watch a concert on a nice day,’’ she said. “So we did.”

Power connections to the property remain from the Amore days, and will soon be reactivated for the tree lighting and concerts. The Chamber is planning to bring in a portable stage for each month's performers and is the process of lining up the bands now. Food trucks parked around the outside of the property are possible, and town plans for further development of the land include provisions better truck access. 

Loefgren says she believes there is pent-up interest in both sorts of events. Especially since the Savor the Sounds events were such a hit. 

"We kept getting calls -- when are you going to do your concerts again? When are you going to do the concerts again?,'' she said. "So that's when the Community Outreach Committee said, we said 'let's add that to our agenda.' "

Konkol said the hope is to create a tradition with the tree-lighting and the seasonal concert series. The trick is getting it off the ground for the first time. 

"Our intent, the committee's intent and chambers' intent is to make this an annual thing we look forward to and keep coming,'' he said. "We're hopeful that this space works out and we're hopeful that people enjoy it.''


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