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Spoll's Longboat legacy: Making paradise a little bit better

The long-serving former commissioner and mayor died at age 89 following decades of service to the town.

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  • | 8:40 p.m. December 28, 2022
It didn’t take Spoll long to become involved in making Longboat Key a better place.
It didn’t take Spoll long to become involved in making Longboat Key a better place.
File photo
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It’s hard to think of a segment of Longboat Key life that George Spoll didn’t affect in his nearly 30 years on the island.

Traffic? He worked from public office and through a private organization he helped launch to urge solutions both on the island and off.

Tourism? The island’s biggest construction project in decades ties directly to an idea Spoll fostered to balance hotel space with a strong desire to avoid becoming an overrun tourist Mecca.

A town center? The retired architectural engineer and home builder, who moved to Florida from Connecticut, long supported a central place for Longboaters to gather. Such a place is now under construction.  

Mayor George Spoll of Longboat Key
Photo by Rachel S. O'Hara | Staff Photographer

Spoll, 89, who died Christmas night after a period of declining health, devoted decades of his retirement to fine-tuning an island many already call paradise.

“I think George was trying to make Longboat a better place, but not a place like other places,’’ said Jim Brown, with whom Spoll served on the town’s Planning and Zoning Board and Town Commission. “I mean, George did a lot to keep it that way.’’

The notion of a successful retired professional moving to Longboat Key without intending to become civically connected only to embark on a second act isn’t an unusual one here. But friends and colleagues around the island say Spoll, who served on the Town Commission for seven years and then returned to office five years later, was a special kind of person in that regard.

Between elected stints in Town Hall, he helped form the private Longboat Key Revitalization Task Force, a group assembled to shine a spotlight on ways to further improve the community through informed examinations of traffic issues, red tide concerns, sea level rise, redevelopment plans for condo communities and a general look to the future.

“His hobby was working on projects on Longboat Key,’’ said Tom Freiwald, whom Spoll invited to join the Task Force in 2011. “When he wasn't on the Commission, he would still go to all the meetings, all the workshops. He went to almost all the planning and zoning meetings. He had a wide circle of knowledgeable people who were involved in a lot of things.

“He just loved Longboat Key and he loved making contributions to the future Longboat Key. That was his driving force.’’

Tom Aposporos, who as then-president of the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce was also invited to take part in the Task Force, said he’ll remember Spoll as one of the town’s leading figures.

“It's wonderful for the people who live there that they have such dedicated leaders,’’ he said. “George was certainly high among them.’’

Freiwald said Spoll insisted the Task Force involve itself with nothing but issues that benefited the entire island and ensured that its membership didn’t lean toward the north or south ends.

The Task Force was an early supporter of the now-formalized proposal to build a roundabout at Gulf of Mexico Drive and Broadway Street. It also pushed for rules allowing condominiums to rebuild or remodel into more modern buildings, either driven by disaster or the market.

He said Spoll’s leadership fostered an atmosphere of being heard.

“I don't think I was ever in a meeting where he overruled anybody,’’ Freiwald said. “I don't remember in the 10 years or so that we were very active as the task force a single time we voted. We either all agreed or we agreed not to agree, and therefore we wouldn't pursue certain things.”

Aposporos, who had served as mayor of Poughkeepsie, New York, wasn’t even a Longboat Key resident when tapped by Spoll.

“It was all about moving Longboat Key always in a positive direction,” he said. “That was pretty much George's insistence right from the beginning.’’

It didn’t take Spoll long to become involved in making Longboat Key a better place.

He and his wife, Madelyn, moved to Longboat Key in January 1993.  In a 2011 interview with the Longboat Observer, Spoll said he and Madelyn “wanted a place where there was a sense of community, where people could be involved, and still be close to a cultural center. Longboat is the epitome of all of that.’’

Shortly after arriving, Spoll attended a Fairway Bay condo meeting during which a painting project was discussed. Spoll asked about other things in the community that needed to be repaired before the buildings could be painted, and by September 1993, he was on the condominium’s board. He went on to serve as president for 12 years.

By October of that year, he began serving on the Federation of Condominiums of Longboat Key, an organization of associations that began in 1973 with 14 member groups and now lists more than 70.

By early 1994, Spoll was president of the Federation, ultimately serving in leadership roles with that group for more than 20 years.

“Longboat Key is a unique place in many ways, but one of the ways is that it is a retirement place for many people who have been leaders in whatever industry they were in,’’ said Brown, with whom Spoll served in public office.

It was during his time on the Planning and Zoning Board from 2003-2004 that he met Brown, who had also retired to Longboat after selling his architectural firm.

Spoll served twice on the Town Commission, from 2004-2011 (vice mayor from 2007-08 and mayor from 2010-2011) and again from 2016-2021 (two years as mayor beginning in 2018).

As a Planning Board member, Spoll triggered discussions that resulted in the town undertaking a long-term vision process with the Urban Land Institute, results of which remain top of mind for city leaders today. Out of that process in 2013 came the term that so many Longboaters continue to invoke: “To keep Longboat Longboat.”

Also, after Longboat saw the mid-Key Holiday Inn converted to a luxury condominium and many other small Gulf-front resorts converted to condos, town leaders realized a loss of tourism was destructive to the Key’s future.

Spoll and the late Vice Mayor David Brenner, who died in 2019 at age 83, launched ideas that ultimately resulted in the development of the tourism-residential hybrid Residences at the St. Regis Longboat Key Resort on the site of the former Colony Beach and Tennis Resort.

Voters in 2008 approved two charter amendments — one that allows nonconforming condo projects to rebuild what exists in the event they are destroyed; the second, Spoll’s idea, created a pool of 250 hotel units that existing resorts and hotels could tap to bring back lost hotel units. The latter amendment fostered the redevelopment of the Hilton into the Zota Beach Resort and was crucial to Unicorp Developments’ proposal for the St. Regis, which underwent years of scrutiny from government and private groups alike until its eventual approval in 2018. Spoll voted against the proposal, saying he objected to the project’s emptying of the town’s 250-room tourism-unit supply.

Firm with the mayor’s gavel, Spoll also played roles in guiding policies that played a role in the nearly completed underground utilities project and defended the island’s interests when it came to traffic issues and the need for a town center, which is now working its way through its second phase.

Former Commissioner Jack Daly, who left the dais in 2021 alongside Spoll and Ed Zunz, said Spoll’s legacy as mayor will be one of fairness and inclusion.

“George had very strong views and he was articulate and consistent on articulating those views,’’ Daly said. “But again, to his credit, he never let those views override his primary obligation as I saw it to conduct fair and open and collegial discussions. And he did that religiously.’’

Spoll served with both Pat and Ed Zunz until recently on the Longboat Key Revitalization Task Force.

“George and I had an interesting relationship,’’ Pat Zunz said. “He and I usually agreed, but the one thing we never agreed on was he said to me, ‘You always said things once, and you never repeated them.’ Well, I said, if people didn’t hear it the first time, they weren’t going to hear it the second time either. But he was always after me that you need to keep saying things over and over again so people get it.”

Detail-oriented, Spoll frequently would note so-called scrivener’s errors – typos in the non-government world – in town documents that passed his gaze.

Lenny Landau, with whom Spoll also worked on the Task Force, said Spoll’s belief in attention to detail and making things better extended to his Bay Isles home.

As Spoll got weaker in recent years, it was hard for him to go up and down the stairs, but he didn’t want to move. With his background in building, Landau said Spoll designed and supervised about seven months of construction to install a “clear plastic tube” elevator. Every room was affected, and structural changes to the condominium had to be made.

“It’s really something to see. It should be a monument,” Landau said. “He thought of it, and I did too, as a piece of art as well as an elevator, and that’s the way he was about everything. He was really interested in the details, and he contributed a lot.”

Spoll is survived by his wife of 37 years, Madelyn, a married daughter, a married son, a married grandson, a sister and three nephews.

Memorial gifts in Spoll’s name may be directed to the Shoal Point Lighthouse Fund, c/o FLPOA, PO Box 213, Inlet, NY, 13360, or to a charity of your choice.

Longboat Observer reporter Lesley Dwyer contributed reporting to this story.


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