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2021 Digital Year in Review

We bring you the best of from 2021.

  • By
  • | 1:40 p.m. December 29, 2021
  • Sarasota
  • Neighbors
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The print editions of the Observers are great — we know! But there’s always more on our website and social media accounts that gets our readers talking, Florida-style bizarre or otherwise.

Remember Hurricane Elsa? Yeah, neither do we. Elsa, the only tropical system Sarasota County concerned itself with this season, was a big conversation online, at least until it passed by with less rain than your average summer evening.

But much more memorable news kept the digital side of the Observer busy this year, from vaccines and variants to airlines coming to and expanding at SRQ. And traffic, of course. Can’t forget about the ever-loved roundabouts that manage to confuse locals and tourists alike.

So in honor of another year of news gone by, we bring you the best of from 2021.


Painting the Town Red


July saw a comeback of one of the area’s most discussed and signature topics — just not a very positive one. High concentrations of red tide were present along the coast from Pasco to Charlotte counties. 

Locally, sharks from Sarasota Bay began crowding the waters of some Longboat Key neighborhoods in an attempt to get a breather from the red tide. Hundreds of sharks sought refuge in the canals for a more breathable area; red tide decreases oxygen in the water, which is what causes sea life to die en masse.

“These animals are so thick that if you fall in, I swear to God, you're going to hit probably five sharks,” Jack Morris, Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium’s senior biologist, told the Observer at the time. “I feel like I could run across the canal on the backs of the sharks.”

The region began clearing in early September but by the end of the month saw high concentrations return until early November.

Online, we maintained a map detailing the status of red tide presence, aerosols and dead fish across Sarasota and Manatee county beaches. It became the most-viewed page on our website this year. 


Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

In a destination like Siesta Key, it’s not uncommon for homes to fly off the market. What’s rare is the sale of an entire neighborhood. 

But that’s exactly what happened when a few local investors purchased the last undeveloped gated community on Siesta Key. 

Coronas Park LLC through the Ware Group purchased the Coronas Park neighborhood, located on Bochi Circle just off Ocean Boulevard and Givens Street, for $6.35 million in June. The neighborhood comprises five homes and another eight buildable lots. In the past few years, the homes have been used for vacation rentals; none had been sold to individual owners previously. However, Coronas Park LLC now intends to sell each parcel individually to full-time or part-time residents, which has never been an option in the neighborhood.

“We think it’s a good opportunity for Siesta Key as a whole,” Coronas Park LLC member Mark Kara told the Observer in July. “We look forward to getting it developed and built so people can enjoy the stuff that we grew up enjoying all our lives.”


Slide Away

For $12.9 million, you can buy a beachfront waterslide on Longboat Key — and the 10,000-square foot, five-bedroom house that goes with it.

The home at 3105 Gulf of Mexico Drive was listed in June (yes, that makes two big real estate sale happenings that month) with Premier Sotheby’s International Realty’s downtown Sarasota office. It had a sale pending a month later but was relisted in early August, still for $12.9 million.

With the usual batch of luxury features befitting a home priced near the top of the Sarasota-Bradenton market, including an air-conditioned garage, floor-to-ceiling windows and 175 feet of beachfront,the home stands out with its slide extending from a third-story rooftop deck down to the main-level beachfront pool.


Silver for Sarasotans

In what would normally be a slow season in the area, this summer had some added anticipation and excitement with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. (We’re still not sure why they didn’t change the name to the actual year they were held, but that’s beside the point.)

Four Olympians (and one Olympic manager) represented Sarasota at the games this year and had lots of locals talking on our social media. 

Former Sarasota Crew boys rower Clark Dean competed with the USRowing Olympic team, and skateboarder Jake Ilardi, who still calls Sarasota home when not traveling the world for competitions or training, competed in the qualifying round for men's street skateboarding. 

Sarasota Military Academy graduate Mary Tucker qualified for the mixed team air rifle (10 meters) and the women's small-bore rifle three positions (50 meters). After finishing 13th in the rifle three positions and sixth in the women's air rifle, she took home a silver medal in the mixed 10-meter air rifle with her partner, Lucas Kozeniesky.

Swimmer Emma Weyant, who attended Riverview High and also swam with the Sarasota Sharks, entered the women's 400-meter individual medley as the top qualifier and left with the silver medal. "Honestly, this is crazier than anything I could have dreamed," Weyant said in a post-race interview on NBC. "I'm just so happy to be here with the best in the world. It's so much fun."


No Longer No. 1 — or Even 10

After several years at the top of the TripAdvisor Top 25 Beaches list, Siesta Key Beach dropped in the latest rankings, released in March, all the way out of the top 10. 

Siesta Beach, which received the No. 1 ranking in the U.S. for 2020, fell this year to No. 17 in the travel company’s rankings of the country’s best beaches. 

Siesta Key was one of eight Florida beaches to crack the top 25, with St. Pete Beach claiming the No. 1 spot. 

The No. 17 listing is a demotion for the beach, which has consistently ranked in the site’s top 10 since 2015. 

Last year, the beach also ranked No. 11 in the world rankings. This year it didn’t even make the list.


It's a Brand-New Car!

What started out as a simple quest to get a T-shirt from a YouTuber ended up with a new Tesla for one Sarasota family

And they have their 9-year-old son to thank.

Sarasota Christian School student Alexander Hedge purchased a limited-time T-shirt from YouTuber MrBeast, who is known for posting stunt and challenge videos. But what the Hedges didn’t know was that the purchase entered them into a giveaway for a Tesla.

Of the 35,000 entrants, Alexander’s name was chosen. He and his father, Tom, are now the owners of the all-electric 2021 Model 3, which retails between $40,000 and $56,000.

Now in a much sweeter ride to school, Alexander joked that he’s become “really popular.”

“When we picked him up (in the new Tesla), there were kids screaming about it, and Alex walks out with this big smile on his face,” Tom said.

Oh, and he got his T-shirt too. 


Racket or Paddle?

Tennis and pickleball: the two top sports in the area — by a long shot. Pickleball, one of the fastest-growing sports in the U.S., is fairly similar to tennis, but there are some noteworthy differences.

In April 2020, we published a story for our Health Matters section comparing the two sports and their health benefits. After a year with little traffic, it has in the past seven months become one of our most-read articles. We’re not sure why it went almost an exact year without any traction or why it started gaining some again — and regularly at that. But if it means the interest in pickleball is spreading, we’re happy to spread the love.


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