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10 Longboat Key projects to watch in 2024

Islandwide transit, a vacant commission seat and beach erosion are just a few of the issues on tap for Longboat in 2024.

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While Longboat Key had its fair share of achievements in 2023, it’s time to look ahead.  

Last year, the Town Commission, staff and residents started the momentum on several projects that are heading toward notable progress in 2024. 

There were also some notable issues, such as St. Regis Longboat Key parking, undergrounding project delays and Hurricane Idalia, which flooded areas of the island. 

Be sure to stay up to date with the Longboat Observer as these stories progress over the next year: 

1. District 5 commission appointment

For the first Town Commission meeting of 2024, on Jan. 8, there will be one empty seat. 

The appointment of a new District 5 commissioner is on the agenda for Jan. 22. 

Debbie Murphy previously occupied the seat. She submitted her letter of resignation on Nov. 20. The reason, she said, was the new Form 6 financial disclosure requirement for elected municipal officials, which was passed in the 2023 legislative session. 

Deborah Murphy started her commissioner role March 20.
Photo by Lauren Tronstad

The form asks for local elected officials to disclose assets, net worth and liabilities more specifically than before, which Murphy felt was “intrusive.” 

Murphy set her resignation date as Dec. 24, 2023, so the commission would have enough time to review applications and appoint a new commissioner within the 30-day window that’s needed to fill the seat after a resignation. 

Interested candidates living in District 5 can send resumes and letters of intent to the town clerk by noon on Friday, Jan. 12. The selected candidate will be sworn in at a special meeting at 11:30 a.m. Jan. 22. 

The appointed commissioner will serve until the March 2025 general election. 

2. Deal for islandwide transit

How does someone without a car get from one end of Longboat Key to the other? Through two different county transit systems: a shuttle and an on-demand service. 

That may change soon with an agreement between Manatee County and Sarasota County. 

Putting it in terms of football, Town Manager Howard Tipton said it seems like it's been a 99-yard drive toward the end zone, and all the deal needs now is that last push. 

During an Oct. 31 joint meeting with the town of Longboat Key commissioners and Manatee County commissioners, Longboat Key officials shared their pressing interest in a unified transit system — something that has been in progress for about five years, according to Tipton. 

“Traffic, especially during the season, is the biggest problem by far on the island that we cannot solve,” Mayor Ken Schneier said. “So we’re taking the steps we can to try to resolve it, and one is to try to make the best uniform transit system that we can have to solve the needs.”

Manatee County currently operates a free shuttle on the county's portion of the island. The service requests advanced reservation. 

Sarasota County utilizes the OnDemand system for users in Sarasota County to request a ride through a smartphone app. The cost per ride is $2. 

Currently, the OnDemand system stops at the dividing line between counties. 

At the joint meeting, county and town commissioners talked about an agreement that would allow Sarasota County's OnDemand service to absorb the Manatee County portion of Longboat Key. 

In the agreement, Sarasota County would be the "vendor," and Manatee County would need to pay $30.67 per trip to Sarasota County. 

Manatee County's Longboat Key shuttle currently costs the county $200,000 to $250,000 a year, according to Manatee County Public Works Director Chad Butzow. 

While Schneier was at first hopeful the agreement could be finalized by the end of 2023, the agreement may be on both counties' commission agendas in early January, according to Town Commission emails. 

As long as there aren't any bumps in the road, the OnDemand service should extend through the entirety of Longboat Key starting in 2024. 

3. Undergrounding project  

It's possible that the utilities undergrounding project will get wrapped up this year. 

The project has been delayed multiple times and remains under budget. But in early first quarter 2024, town staff expects there to be some pole removal and transformers arriving to finish the job. 

During Public Works Director Isaac Brownman’s update to town commissioners on Dec. 11, Phase 2 was on track to be energized by the end of 2023, with pole removal in that section to immediately follow. 

“FPL has everything they can possibly have to finish Phase 2, we're just waiting for them to authorize and turn those around so Wilco can finish,” Browman said.

For phases 3 and 4, a total of 24 transformers are still in need of being replaced. 

Single-phase transformers like this are smaller and simpler than the larger, commercial-use transformers that are currently on back order.
Photo by Carter Weinhofer

An oversight noticed by Wilco Electrical LLC in June 2023 alerted project staff that existing underground transformers would not be compatible with the new system, thus the need to replace them. 

Supply chain delays have held up the delivery of new transformers, now slated to arrive early first quarter of 2024. The timeline for final conversions and pole removal in those phases is still to be determined, according to Brownman.

But if all stays on schedule, Phase 2 pole removal should be getting underway soon. 

To add onto the delays, Hurricane Idalia caused the failure of 20 of the new underground transformers. Florida Power & Light began a forensic investigation and promised results within 60-90 days after the investigation started toward the end of September. 

With that, there's two things to look out for in 2024. First, the results of FPL's forensic investigation. And second, how far will the undergrounding project progress this year? 

4. Whitney Plaza Community Center

Of all the projects on this list, this may be the one that has seemed to be the slowest-moving.

A greater presence on Longboat Key for Manatee County has been something on Manatee County District 3 Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge’s mind for a couple years. 

Progress was slow last year, starting with a community input session. The discussion drifted toward concerns over parking, but some residents did share excitement about the potential for a meeting space and continuing education opportunities in the building located at 6810 Gulf of Mexico Drive. 

The Whitney Plaza Community Center would be located at 6810 Gulf of Mexico Drive.
Photo by Carter Weinhofer

An interlocal agreement between Manatee County and the School District of Manatee County is the first step toward progress. 

The Dec. 12 Manatee County school district meeting saw the approval of allowing Superintendent Jason Wysong to enter the interlocal agreement. Board members voted 3-2 in favor of entering the agreement. 

The action item from the meeting said potential activities could include “Adult Education Classes to include English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) or General Education Development (GED).” 

During an Oct. 31 joint meeting between Longboat Key and Manatee County commisioners, Property Acquisition Division Manager for Manatee County Charles Meador estimated that a $1.2 million remodel will be necessary for the 6,140 square-foot space.

Also, Meador said annual operating costs would be around $135,000, or $11,200 a month. The county will pay for both the remodel and operating costs, including managing the lease of the space. 

Throughout town meetings, community input sessions and the joint meeting, a lot of ideas have been thrown around as to what the space could entail: art studio space, mentorship programs, community group meeting space and adult education classes. 

What exactly will this space provide, and when? 

5. New Pass structure tightening 

The latter half of 2023 involved a lot of discussions about beach erosion and how to prepare the island after Hurricane Idalia left the beaches "deflated" throughout the island

While possible beach renourishment projects may be a ways off, one beach protection project will be wrapping up shortly: the New Pass Structure Tightening. 

The New Pass Terminal Groin Rehabilitation project is set to begin this month, which will tighten the groin's rocks.
Image courtesy of Olsen Associates Inc.

The rock groin that borders Longboat Key's southern beach has been in place since the 1970s, with a reconstruction in 1998. 

It was time for repair and tightening. 

Construction began in November 2023 and will tighten and add rocks to the existing groin structure. This will hopefully limit the amount of sand that passes through, thus helping combat beach erosion. 

According to a report from Public Works Director Isaac Brownman, the project is anticipated to wrap up in February. 

6. St. Regis Longboat Key

Don’t worry, there won’t be a parking garage on site when the St. Regis Longboat Key opens in summer 2024. 

The parking saga concluded over the summer, after plans for a parking garage were met with community and commission opposition

Finally, the commission and developer Unicorp National Developments, Inc. struck a deal in October that expands surface parking. This includes expanding a 33-space lot to a 93-space lot, and adding 12 more spaces to the entrance driveway. 

These changes also produce a loss of 3,202 square feet of impervious surface. 

The 62 mechanical lift spaces that were previously proposed were also removed. 

All in all, the new plans have a net gain of one parking space from the original 2021 plans. 

At the end of last year, Unicorp President Chuck Whittall announced he had chosen a general manager for the St. Regis Longboat Key: Winfred Van Workum. 

Van Workum has his fair share of experience with high-end resorts, previously serving as the general manager for the St. Regis Bal Harbour, the St. Regis Washington, D.C., and the Ritz-Carlton New York. 

In October, Van Workum was already thinking about staffing strategies and how to market the St. Regis Longboat Key to be on track for a Forbes Five-Star Rating. 

“We’re really positioning the hotel as a destination where I think we’re really going to market this to some of the top travel agents in the world,” Van Workum said.

Drone images from November show the lagoon beginning to take shape at the St. Regis Longboat Key.
Courtesy image

Some of the most interesting features Van Workum talked about in a profile with The Observer were a saltwater lagoon with tropical fish and stingrays, and two resident Galapagos tortoises. 

The food and beverage options will appeal to both guests and Longboat Key residents. An upscale restaurant featuring steaks and seafood, as well as a more “approachable” Italian restaurant are planned. 

A second-floor bar will be perfectly positioned to watch sunsets, and a tiki bar by the beach will pay homage to The Colony’s Monkey Room Bar. 

According to previous updates from Unicorp, the St. Regis Longboat Key is scheduled to wrap up construction this spring, with a grand opening expected in the summer. 

7. Canal dredging

The town’s 81 canals most likely won’t get tune-ups this year. 

But the town will have more insight into the status of all the canals after a survey is completed and returned to staff by spring or summer 2024. 

Public Works, along with Taylor Engineering, Inc. and Anser Advisory, LLC presented a possible revenue method and next steps to commissioners on Nov. 6. But after the presentation, commissioners seemed to be more confused. 

“It wasn’t the best performance that we could have done,” Town Manager Howard Tipton told commissioners at a Dec. 11 workshop. “It was a complex issue. We really hadn’t been talking about it since the spring.” 

The town's 81 canals were split into seven groups.
Courtesy photo

After the Nov. 6 presentation, Assistant Public Works Director Charlie Mopps and staff met with commissioners individually to get feedback on the program. 

What resulted were recommendations to cut costs and make the revenue methods less complicated. 

Many of the 81 canals haven’t been worked on in about 20 years. Before a maintenance program goes into place, there must be work done to get the canals back to baseline conditions. 

In order to re-baseline the canals, the work was estimated to cost $16.8 million. It was also originally supposed to be a five-year project. 

Now, given the feedback, Mopps said it is possible to extend this initial push from five years to 10 years, thus spreading out the costs over a longer timeframe. 

Originally, the town’s canals were split up into three groups based on who benefits from the canal’s use. Some commissioners recommended changing this to only two types of canals, thus making how the funds are collected simpler. 

It was also suggested to reassess how condos and homeowners associations divide up the costs. 

All in all, Mopps’ main point was that surveys on the canals haven’t been done since 2016. He recommended that the town looks into funding sources for a new survey of the canals, to get more information about the status and see what canals need to be prioritized. 

Commissioners unanimously directed staff to go forward with the re-surveying, and to continue refining the program costs. Mopps estimated that survey results would be available to share in spring or early summer.

8. Town Center Phase 3

Another community center space? Maybe in a couple years. 

Town Center Phase 2 is now complete after the Karon Family Pavilion was unveiled on Nov. 11 during a special Veterans Day event. The privately funded pavilion cost a total of $800,000, bringing the total construction costs for Phase 2 to $2.3 million. 

Now, Sarasota County is partnering with the town to advance work on Phase 3, which will be a public library in the Town Center space. The new library will take the place of the existing Longboat Key Library.

The Town Center Green will continue on to Phase 3, which includes a new public library in town through Sarasota County.
File photo

Toward the latter half of 2023, the project team also selected Borrelli + Partners as the architect and Jon F. Swift Construction as the construction manager. Jon F. Swift Construction has worked on previous town projects such as Bayfront Park and the Town Center Phase 2. 

Sarasota County funded $1 million in the current fiscal year for design of Phase 3. 

“It’s exciting to see it moving forward, and we appreciate the county setting aside these dollars to work on the design piece,” Tipton said in August. 

The county will be financially responsible for the new public library, but there remains an opportunity to extend the project to also include a community center space. That space, if decided to integrate into the plan, would be paid for by the town. 

Longboat Key Support Services Director Carolyn Brown is one of the town’s lead representatives for this project. According to her, there will be a public outreach effort and community input sessions for the project in the new year. 

If all goes smoothly, Public Works Director Isaac Brownman said design and permitting would continue to completing construction documents potentially in spring 2025. 

But for now, keep an eye out for possible community input sessions for this project in 2024. 

9. Safer crossing

The Florida Department of Transportation is currently working on crosswalk upgrades along the entirety of Gulf of Mexico Drive, but five are on Longboat Key.

Along with some minor improvements at certain crossings, Longboat Key is going to soon have pedestrian hybrid beacons — similar to the ones at crosswalks in the Gulfstream Roundabout — at two crosswalks. 

The town is not financially responsible for the project in any way. 

Ajax Paving, the main contractor for the FDOT project, originally expected the project to wrap up around late summer 2024. But now, the upgrades on Longboat Key will likely be done around February and March. 

So what exactly are the upgrades? 

On the north end, an entirely new crosswalk is being installed near Broadway Street. This pedestrian crosswalk will have amber flashing signals, similar to ones already on GMD. This is expected to be done in February. 

Additional highway lighting will be installed at crosswalks near Companion Way and the Banyan Bay Club, both scheduled to be completed in February as well. 

At the crosswalks near Bayfront Park and Country Club Shores, the pedestrian hybrid beacons will be installed. Public Works Director Isaac Brownman said the town communicated to the FDOT that these were two of the most heavily-used crosswalks. 

Pedestrian hybrid beacons have a mast arm that extends over the roadway. When pedestrians want to cross, they press a button that begins a flashing yellow light on the mast arm. Then, the signal turns red, allowing the pedestrians to cross. 

10. Pickleball parking

Pickleball or tennis? Kidding — we’ll leave that debate alone. 

But for Bayfront Park users, in-season congestion may be eased with the addition of more parking at the park. 

Bayfront Park is used for much more than pickleball. The recreation classes, waterfront views, tennis court and beach access parking all draw in residents and visitors alike. In years past, there was shared frustration over the park being too crowded, especially during peak pickleball times. 

During peak season, demand for pickleball kept court lines long and the parking lot full.
Photo by Lauren Tronstad

When the park was renovated in 2017, there were 60 parking spaces: 52 regular, 7 accessible and one electric vehicle parking spot. 

Last year, the town added a total of 14 more spaces, a 23% increase to parking. 

“Compared to what we’re seeing in terms of these parking conflicts, we don’t ever remember 14 people circling around looking for parking spaces,” Director of Public Works Isaac Brownman said. “So we think that’s a pretty significant improvement.”

In September last year, Brownman also proposed that the remaining tennis-only court be re-striped for shared use, which commissioners directed staff to follow through with. 

Also at that meeting, Brownman shared that a lease was in progress with Frontier, who owns the space near the front of Bayfront Park. 

The lease would add 10-14 more parking spaces utilizing the grassy area on Frontier’s lot. All Public Works would have to do is maintain the vegetation and trash. 

“We thought that’s a fantastic deal,” Brownman said.

According to Streets, Facilities, Parks & Recreation Manager Mark Richardson, the lease with Frontier was finalized in late 2023, and parking spaces were expected to be in place the first wee of January.



Carter Weinhofer

Carter Weinhofer is the Longboat Key news reporter for the Observer. Originally from a small town in Pennsylvania, he moved to St. Petersburg to attend Eckerd College until graduating in 2023. During his entire undergraduate career, he worked at the student newspaper, The Current, holding positions from science reporter to editor-in-chief.

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