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LBK town center: Great vision, but town should sell the land

We’ve always been skeptical of the practical reality of it all.

  • Longboat Key
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It’s such a great vision and dream: a handsome, laid-back, tree-lined town center in between the Publix and the Longboat Key Public Tennis Center, complete with strolling residents and visitors dining outdoors before a pleasant evening at the Longboat Key Arts, Culture & Education Center.

The crowning piece de resistance to making Longboat Key beyond extraordinary.

And better yet: at “minimal cost” to the town’s taxpayers, the term now adopted in future official town discussions.

What a great vision.

Sorry. We can’t help it. In spite of the vision, we’ve always been skeptical of the practical reality of it all.

This vision has lingered for seven years. It started, you might remember, after Ringling College of Art and Design shuttered and sold the Longboat Key Center for the Arts on the north end of the Key.

The idea then was to create a town center and a long-sought community gathering place farther south where Longboaters could attend small-scale arts performances, speaker series and art and education classes — avoiding the hassle of leaving the Key for entertainment.

One problem, though: financing. There was a hope and expectation that philanthropists would step forward with $10 million to $16 million, relieving Longboat taxpayers from carrying the load. It didn’t happen.

Today, the conversation among town commissioners is for the town staff to begin spreading the word the town  is seeking a private-sector partner to bring the vision to reality.

Prediction: This will go on for many more years and will not end well. That’s typically what happens when local governments try to be developers. The graveyards throughout Florida are full of city government projects that never panned out.

We’ve always advocated the town should not be a landowner, particularly of this land. Instead, the town should sell it and let  prospective buyers pitch what type of development the market would bear, with the town, of course, having final say on what ultimately is built.

It’s hard to imagine the arts, cultural and education center a part of the mix without total tax dollars’ support.

What’s more, while developers tend to be optimistic, visionary risk takers, they also go by the old rule: Demand typically governs supply. An interested developer, before committing to invest millions, likely will want to see how the Key evolves once the St. Regis Hotel is open.

It’s hard to make the case now that a town center concept is viable.



Matt Walsh

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

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