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TOP STORY, October: Key Club pushes project approval

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  • | 5:00 a.m. January 2, 2010
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Throughout the holiday week, will be counting down the top 12 stories of 2009 (one from each month) from our Longboat, East County and Sarasota Observers. Check back each day fro a reprinting — and any relevant updates — of the biggest news items of the year.


If the town of Longboat Key rejects the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s proposed $400 million Islandside redevelopment and expansion plan, the club’s property will deteriorate, property values Key-wide will fall and jobs and businesses will continue to contract.

That was the primary pitch made Wednesday, Oct. 21 and Thursday, Oct. 22 by Longboat Key Club and Resort attorney John Patterson and the club’s expert witnesses who spoke on behalf of the club at the Planning and Zoning Board Islandside hearings at Temple Beth Israel.

The club is proposing to construct a new Rees Jones-designed golf course; a new clubhouse; a 196-room, five-star hotel with an additional 34 units to be used either for tourism or luxury residences; a new meeting center; two villa townhomes with a total of 10 units; two condominium buildings with 66 units each; a new wellness center with enhanced spa-and-fitness facilities; and other recreational amenities for club members and guests.

“We are proposing a $400 million, world-class redevelopment of Longboat Key,” Patterson said.

Referencing Planning, Zoning and Building Director Monica Simpson’s presentation, in which she reported her staff did not recommend the project as presented, Patterson said: “We are coming to you now to ask for amendments to the club’s Gulf-planned development, just like 20 other applicants have done in the past to amend this same development,” Patterson said. “We believe what we are presenting is well within your power to approve.”

About 350 Longboat Key residents, town officials and business owners filled the temple last Wednesday for the first of two days of testimony. Less than half that number came back for the second day of hearings. Many of the people in attendance were either wearing “I Support the Club” badges or “Can the Massive Plan” stickers.

Testimony from the opposition, primarily representatives of the Islandside Property Owners Coalition, was postponed until the hearing resumes Nov. 5. Planning board members agreed to delay an expected three-hour presentation from IPOC’s attorneys when it was apparent there wouldn’t be enough time last week.

Speaking on behalf of the Longboat Key Club and Resort, Dr. Hank Fishkind, economist/principal with Fishkind & Associates, didn’t mince words in his characterization of Longboat Key.

In general, he said, Longboat Key “is in a serious state of decline.” And, he said if the Key Club’s $400 million proposed redevelopment and expansion plan is nixed, Longboat residents can expect the downward trend to continue.

The planning department will make a recommendation about the project to the Town Commission next month.

The following is a detailed account of the first two days of public hearings regarding the project.

Public comments
Longboat Key residents and business owners who will be unable to attend the Nov. 5 Planning and Zoning Board hearing were allowed to make their public comments Thursday, Oct. 22. Below are some of their comments:

“We have a $400 million development project here ready to go, and I don’t see what the problem is. As a business owner, this is the redistribution of wealth I’m looking for.”Kelly Kary, Longboat Key resident and Sarasota business owner

“I have lived on Longboat Club Road for 20 years, and I beg you not to amend the Islandside outline development plan, because the owners aren’t willing to negotiate, and this project is too massive.”Vivian Ross, Islandside resident

“We have lost 1,200 hotel rooms in the last several years, and businesses here are experiencing a significant decrease in sales. All of this spells disaster for our community.”
Diana Corrigan, executive director of St. Armands Circle Association

“There is no doubt this project will greatly enhance the island’s luxury lifestyle. The expansion is simply a compatible continuation of Arvida’s plan. Will we turn our back on this and close the door simply because each one of us has gotten our share? Now is the time to look ahead with courage and foresight to allow our island jewel to grow and survive.” Amy Drake, Longboat Key resident

“The traffic this project could create is a disaster waiting to happen.”
Gerald Ross

“I want to keep Longboat Key beautiful, healthy and financially sound. We need the club expansion as much as we need fresh air. As you look around, the town is literally dying. I know change is difficult, but we need to do what’s best for the community as a whole.”
Chuck Nechtem, Longboat Key resident and business owner

 “The community and its airport have a vested interest in the success of this project. Longboat Key and the Key Club have been important drivers of tourism engines that make our airport desirable. It’s important to the airport that tourism remains fresh and thrives.”Fred Piccolo, executive director of the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport

“The island was a great place to live, but we have lost fine hotels ... it is a dire situation. It’s time to stop the bleeding before there’s a hemorrhage. If you don’t approve this plan, next year you will spend our tax dollars to study how to bring back businesses after you drove everyone away.”
— Christine Lynch, Longboat Key resident and St. Armands business owner

In your own words
Here is a sampling of letters to the Editor we received since the public hearing last week.

I attended both hearings on Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 21 and Oct. 22, on behalf of the Longboat Key Club. After hearing Hank Fishkind’s testimony, I would think it would make people who are against the expansion think long and hard again.
Beverley Albertson

Hearings for the Longboat Key Club expansion are burdened with more hostility than is good for the community. This is true no matter how you feel about the issue. It is important for the town’s governing boards and the leadership of the contesting sides to minimize distortion and divisiveness.
Bill Sandy

We attended the Planning and Zoning Board hearing at Temple Beth Israel. The early arrivals ... wore “Can the Plan” stickers. Soon, the Key Club bus arrived carrying those from the free breakfast hosted by the club. These were mostly younger women and men in business attire, proudly exhibiting their large “I Support the Plan” label. We are offended that these commercial people, many of whom are based in Sarasota, have come to our community to lobby for their own profit goals, to the detriment of the residents of the Longboat Key Islandside community.
— Rudy and Hope Meiselman 

From the witness stand
Below is an in-depth account of The Longboat Key Club and Resort’s witnesses who spoke
on behalf of the club during the Planning and Zoning Board’s Islandside project hearing:

Michael Brody

President and chief operating officer, Loeb Partners Realty

Representing the managing partner of Key Club Associates, the group that owns the club, Brody told the Planning and Zoning Board that Key Club Associates has no intention of getting approval for the Islandside project and then selling the resort and leaving town.

“We are not some new company riding into town looking for something without a previous investment to the community,” said Brody. 

Brody said Key Club Associates has invested $100 million in the resort since Loeb purchased it in 1990. 
“We stick with our investments,” he said. “We have invested $24 million into assets here in the last six years alone, including the renovation of golf courses and renovation of the fitness and spa centers.”

When planning board member George Symanski asked Brody why his project was being offered as an all-or-nothing proposal, Brody countered that his company can’t offer a five-star hotel without all of the components proposed.

“The cost of delivering a five-star resort hotel cannot be supportable without the residential portion,” he said.

Michael Welly
General manager, Longboat Key Club and Resort

Welly focused his brief remarks on the proposed 17,000-square-foot meeting center and concerns about traffic from special events. 

He noted the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, which has 18,000 square feet of meeting space, holds only three events a year that have more than 600 guests, and one of them hosts 900, which he said would be too large for the Key Club. Welly said the club has held three events that would qualify as such special events, none of which resulted in traffic problems. 

“We always have a plan in place to counteract traffic and congestion concerns for special events,” said Welly.

He said valet service, shuttles and town police officers are part of special-event management plans.

Dr. Peter Yessawich
Chairman and chief executive officer, Ypartnership

“The Longboat Key Club needs to play catch up, and I would submit to you, clearly, this is in the public interest,” Yessawich told the Planning and Zoning Board.

As chairman of the Orlando-based leisure-and-marketing entertainment firm, Ypartnership, Yessawich has been involved in the development and repositioning of some of the most acclaimed resorts in the United States, including The Breakers, in Palm Beach; the Fontainebleau, in Miami Beach; the Broadmoor, in Colorado Springs, Colo.; and the Wynn, in Las Vegas. As such, his firm has conducted regular market surveys of consumer trends in the travel-resort field. Changes over the past 10 years have been dramatic, he said.

“The concept of loyalty is increasingly fragile,” Yessawich said of the traditional repeat customers to resorts.
In one recent survey, 64% of the respondents — affluent consumers with incomes greater than $150,000 a year — said they want to go someplace they have never been before on their next vacation.

“(This means) you have to continually refresh,” he said. “When you walk around the public-access areas (at the Key Club), you can see there is a capital need that is urgently needed.”

In his comments about the Key Club’s proposed meeting space, Yessawich said the amount of the proposed space “is very appropriate for the Longboat Key Club and Longboat Key. It’s not oversubscribed. It preserves intimacy, which is what the Key Club is known for.”

“Investing $400 million in a resort property is not chump change by anybody’s measurements,” Yessawich said. “If you don’t approve this project, you will handicap the ability of this asset to perform, which will impact taxes and jobs in your community.”

Phil Graham

Principal, Graham-Booth Landscape Architecture 

The St. Petersburg-based landscape architect addressed the planning board to offer the idea of his firm helping the town of Longboat Key redo the southern entrance to the Key at New Pass Bridge up to the entrance of the Key Club.

Graham showed slides depicting how Gulf of Mexico Drive could be landscaped “to create a major portal and gateway to the Key. Create the opportunity for a big hello,” he said.

Graham referenced the town’s $500,000 federal stimulus grant to improve its entrances and welcome signs and said he wanted to help the town and the Florida Department of Transportation work on the project.
Graham and Key Club attorney John Patterson called the southern entrance to Longboat Key “unattractive” and “a mess.”

Said Patterson: “It doesn’t make sense for the club to spend $400 million on a project and have the entrance to Longboat Key look the way it does today.”

John Nichols
Architect, Nichols Brosch Wurst Wolfe

Nichols called the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s Islandside project “a low-density plan that’s very spread out with big gaps between the buildings.

“All of the (proposed) structures are smaller than the buildings that sit on the beach,” Nichols said. “We have also designed a lot of convention hotels, and this is not that.”

Richard Stiles
Traffic engineer, Grimail Crawford Inc.

Gulf of Mexico Drive is not close to approaching its traffic capacity, said Stiles, the Key Club’s traffic engineer.

“Traffic on this roadway has been falling for years,” said Stiles, who said the club’s project meets the town’s level-of-service standards. 

Stiles said neither the club nor the town bases their traffic goals on intermittent traffic events such as the drawbridge at New Pass.  

“The bottom line is that during peak traffic hours, you will not notice any difference in traffic,” Stiles said. “At project build-out, you will only see one additional vehicle turning in and out of the club per minute.”

Stiles also said the town’s traffic study was based on an aggressive growth rate of 2% per year. The study also factors in the town’s additional 250 tourism units that were approved Key-wide and that The Colony Beach & Tennis Resort’s 237 resort units will re-open.

Dr. Hank Fishkind

CEO, economist, Fishkind & Associates

“Without this project,” the Orlando-based economist said, “the loss of tourism rooms on this island will continue, and it’s reasonable to believe Longboat Key will continue to decline as well.”

The economist said the $400 million project would boost property values an average of 7% to 12%, bring jobs to the local economy and help support area businesses.

When planning board member Walter Hackett asked if the project could help recoup some of the businesses that have been lost over the years, Fishkind responded with an emphatic “yes.”

“I believe with renewal and investment, there will be some recouping of those businesses,” Fishkind said. “This project would kick Longboat Key back up from the declining to the renewal stage.”

Fishkind also said the project would bring $100 million to the town’s budget over the course of a 30-year period.

UPDATE: The Longboat Key Town Commission will hear the Longboat Key Club's Islandside proposal this month.

Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected].