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Historic cottages finally find good homes

Thanks to Drake’s persistence, the town finally made a commitment to an important part of Longboat Key — its history.

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In the end, difficult things have a way of working out as they are meant to be, or as God intends.

His timetable seldom conforms with our own. Sometimes the final outcome or reason something happens doesn’t reveal itself until years later. And often the results might not be what you had wanted. But as the saying goes: Everything happens for a reason.

We’ll ascribe all that wisdom to Michael Drake and the Longboat Key Historical Society’s efforts to preserve the two historic Whitney cottages that were part of the Longboat Key Center for the Arts.

After Ringling College of Art and Design sold the Center for the Arts to developer Jim Clabaugh in June 2017, Drake embarked on a noble effort to preserve the two 80-year-old cottages. And for a while, it looked as if Drake might have found a home for the cottages and a way finally to create a deserved and permanent home for the Longboat Key Historical Society when he negotiated an option to purchase property near the corner of Broadway and Gulf of Mexico Drive.

The poor historical society. Ever since its beginning in the 1980s, it has operated like a waif — scrapping for funds, a home and the love it deserved.

Although we always hoped it would survive and thrive as a private, not-for-profit organization and without taxpayer subsidies, we nevertheless thought the Town Commission could have done more than it has to help the historical society.

Why not do for the historical society what the town has done for the Longboat Library and the Longboat Key Public Tennis Center — donate land? With town’s park fund (consisting of money expropriated from developers), the town could have purchased the property in the Village, converted it to a park and leased the land for a nominal amount to the historical society, so it could have the cottages and a museum in perpetuity.

Timing is everything. Instead, commissioners became fixated with an $18 million arts and education center as part of dreamed-about town center. Drake, in turn, couldn’t raise the $400,000 he needed to buy the land under the cottages.

But Drake, the president of the historical society, didn’t give up. And to his credit and determination, he has found permanent homes to preserve the two cottages.

The smaller of the two will be relocated to the town center site near Publix. And the larger of the two — thanks to Ed Chiles, owner of the Chiles Group (Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant) and CEO Chuck Wolfe — will become an office building for the Chiles Group.

Instead of constructing a new building on property designated for additional parking for the Mar Vista at 6920 Gulf of Mexico Drive, the Chiles Group will refurbish and renovate the historic cottage.

Perhaps, this is what divine providence is all about. Thanks to Drake’s persistence, the town finally made a commitment to an important part of Longboat Key — its history. Likewise, one of this region’s most community-minded and generous corporate citizens, the Chiles Group, stepped up (once again) to preserve an important part of Longboat history, while at the same time fulfilling its own business needs.

As we said, difficult things often have a way of working out as they should — and for the best. This is a story — long and often frustrating — that has a happy ending. Props to Michael Drake, the Town Commission and the Chiles Group for making it happen.



Matt Walsh

Matt Walsh is the CEO and founder of Observer Media Group.

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