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Whitney Beach is mostly vacant today but was once home to a grocery store, florist, bar and liquor store. File photo.
Longboat Key Wednesday, Sep. 19, 2012 5 years ago

U.S. Census data shows 10-year loss of 40 businesses, 780 jobs on the Key

by: Robin Hartill Managing Editor

In 2001, Longboat Key was home to 38 retailers and 17 restaurants, according to the U.S. Census Business Patterns Survey.

There was a total of 256 establishments — defined by the Census Bureau as a single physical location at which business or services or industrial operations are performed — and 2,909 employees were on Key payrolls for the pay period that included March 12.

But by 2010, the most recent year for which data was available, those numbers had dropped.

There were just 19 retailers and 13 restaurants. As of March 12, 2010, there were 2,129 employees who worked at 216 Key establishments.

The numbers for 2011, which will be released next summer, are likely to show a further drop because the 2010 figures were taken when the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort was still functioning in a limited capacity. Approximately 75 employees lost their jobs when the resort’s bankruptcy case was converted from Chapter 11 to Chapter 7 in August 2010, although at its peak in the early 2000s, it had approximately 350 employees.

Vice Mayor David Brenner wasn’t surprised to hear about the drop in business over the last 10 years.

“You can see it just observing the level of activity here, and I think it’s one of the fundamental issues we have to deal with,” he said.

“Probably there are fewer people that are here, and my guess is, fewer businesses,” Brenner said. “All these things have an impact on life here on the Key, real-estate values and so forth.”

Key businesses haven’t just been hit by the Great Recession.

The closure of the Longboat Key Holiday Inn in 2003 led to the net loss of 146 hotel rooms that were replaced with 29-unit luxury Positano condominium. The Colony’s collapse in 2010 led to another 237-unit reduction.

For many business owners, that loss translated to fewer customers each year.

But not everyone agrees about the role of business on Longboat Key.

During the commission election in March, in which Brenner won re-election by a narrow 90-vote margin against challenger Ray Rajewski, differences in visions for the island were a key point of contrast.

Brenner said that visitors were important to maintaining services on the island and stressed a mix of residential, commercial and tourism development, while Rajewski emphasized maintaining Longboat Key as an upscale second-home, vacation and residential community.

The role of business on the island will be a major discussion point for a planning study that the town will hire a consultant to undertake to help the town modify its plans and regulations.

The framing questions outlined by Town Manager David Bullock include: Given the seasonability of demand, can we expect businesses to thrive or barely survive? Can we enhance the viability of our businesses by working on the mix, match and mesh of commercial/business activity? Do we need to provide (financial?) assistance to local commercial businesses?

Walter Hackett, a Planning & Zoning Board member who kept a list of businesses that closed on the island and presented it during a P&Z Board meeting in January 2010, also wasn’t surprised by the downward trend, citing a loss of tourism units and calling it a “sign of the times.”

“What Longboat needs is shovel-ready visions, partnerships and updated regulations,” Hackett said. “That will help enable our community to imagine what they want to look like in the future. We need to overhaul local regulations so that they can align with the community’s vision for the future.”

To view a pdf of this page with census graphics, click here.

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