Jacob Lauderbach, right, a third-grader at Anna Maria Elementary School, collects his new bicycle at The Islander newspaper office with help from brother Zachary. Jacob entered a raffle for a chance to win the bike by donating shoes at school to the Ministry of Presence for distribution in Haiti. Islander Photo: Bonner Joy
He once appeared in “Son of the Beach” and has modeled in numerous fashion shoots on beaches. In March 2011, Fabio Lanzoni will share the beach and other Island hot-spots with participants in a fundraiser for The Myositis Association.
The Italian actor, adventurist and model — he’s perhaps best known for his appearance on the cover of hundreds of romance novels and for his long locks — will be the main attraction at a weekend fundraiser for TMA’s Southwest Florida chapter.
• A weekend raffle.
• A poker run and barbecue Sunday, March 20.
• A cocktail party with Fabio at the Gulf Drive Cafe chickee hut, 900 Gulf Drive N., Bradenton Beach, Saturday, March 19.
Tickets are limited to 115 and cost $50. Admission includes hors d’euvre, two drinks and an opportunity to meet and pose for a photograph with Fabio.
• A VIP dinner with Fabio at the Beach Bistro, 6600 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, Saturday, March 20.
Dinner guests will be the highest bidder in a seating auction on the TMA website, www.myositis.org. There are five seats at the table with the celebrity, with bidding starting at $125.
Tickets to other events may also be purchased on the TMA website.
Jack Elka is providing photography for the event cocktail party and dinner. Eric Cairns of Cedar Cove is providing accommodations, and Sean Murphy of Beach Bistro is providing dinner for six. Other donations, including transportation service by Island Limousine, are helping to make the fundraiser possible. The Islander is an event sponsor.
Myositis describes a number of rare inflammatory myopathies, including dermatomyositis, inclusion-body myositis, juvenile myositis and polymyositis. The diseases can cause swelling, inflammation and severe loss of muscle. While the causes are unknown, they are thought to be autoimmune diseases and treatment options are limited.
For some Island accommodation owners and managers last week, reservations for the Christmas-New Year’s period were off by 10 percent from last year.
Others, however, said this is just a typical holiday week for visitors.
The cold weather in Florida and a national economy that has not yet recovered from the recession might be factors in keeping some vacationers away from the Island noted several accommodation owners.
“We’re normally booked solid for this week, but we’ve got a few vacancies,” said Jeff Geary of White Sands Resort in Holmes Beach.
“It’s been colder than usual here, and I think a lot of people are taking a second look at spending the money. But we usually have some walk-ins that we refer elsewhere. This year, we’ve got room for a few,” he added.
At the Club Bamboo Resort in Bradenton Beach, manager Dan Conrad echoed that statement.
“We’re down about 20 percent from last year for the Christmas week,” he said last week. “But we traditionally get a lot of walk-in traffic, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed.”
Conrad blamed the drop in reservations on cold weather the past two weeks.
“People want to come here when it’s in the 70s and 80s, not 50 degrees,” he said.
“If it warms up, they’ll start showing up,” he predicted.
Mother Nature may not be in a cooperative mood.
The National Weather Service in Ruskin predicted daytime temperatures in the low 60s and upper 50s on the Island by early this week, but a warming trend would begin mid-week, extending into the new year.
Not all Island accommodations, however, are reporting even a slight downturn in visitors for the holidays.
“The weather is not a factor for the holiday vacationer,” said hotelier David Teitelbaum, owner of the Tradewinds, SeaSide and Tortuga resorts in Bradenton Beach and a board member of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council.
“Many people anticipate a little cool weather at Christmas, even in Florida. Our guests don’t seem to mind, and it’s a lot warmer here than up north,” he said.
Also, the guests have been coming, although not at the pace of previous holiday seasons.
“It’s been a good Christmas for us. There are a few available units, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see those taken by the end of the week,” Teitelbaum said.
Marianne Norman-Ellis of Mike Norman Realty in Holmes Beach said vacation rentals are up for the Christmas-New Year’s week compared with the same week last year.
“We’ve jumped 20 percent. We’ve still got a few units left, so we can help a walk-in this week, But our rental business has been very good,” she said.
Stephanie Bell at Fran Maxon Realty in Anna Maria also has seen a jump in vacation rentals from last year.
“Christmas is a family holiday and I think families like the larger houses to accommodate everyone, rather than renting several rooms at a motel. We’ve been getting a lot of calls for a large house,” she said.
“We do have a few houses left for the last-minute visitors, however, so people can still show up this week and get a great accommodation on the Island.”
At the BridgeWalk Resort in Bradenton Beach, owner Barbara Rodocker said reservations for this week are good, but she still has a few vacancies.
Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce president Mary Ann Brockman said this Christmas season is unusual because some motels have one and two-night vacancies this week, while vacation rentals are in high demand.
“Several members have vacancies this week for a short stay, rather than a one-or two-week reservation. That’s unusual for the holidays. It could be the weather or it could be the economy. I’m hoping it picks up this week with some good weather.”
Brockman agreed the tourism occupancy outlook for the holiday season is mixed, with motels doing OK, but not the complete sellout as in previous years, while occupancy of vacation rentals (houses and apartments) is above average.
“If I had the answer to why that happens, I could name my price,” she said. “Still, we’re in better shape than a lot of other destinations.”
Brockman said visitors to the Island this week looking for a room or vacation rental can come by the chamber office at 5313 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, to see which chamber members have vacancies.
“We keep track of what our members have available, so it’s real easy for us to match the party to the best accommodation,” she said.
Potential visitors can reach the chamber at 941-778-1541.
While Island accommodations are reporting a mixed bag of occupancy levels, Island restaurants that offer outdoor dining are feeling the bite of the cold temperatures.
“Outdoor dining is down with this weather, especially in the evenings,” said Ed Chiles of the Sandbar, MarVista and BeachHouse restaurants. “Our indoor dining is very good, and we’ve been real busy there, but it’s a bit cool for the outdoor dining crowd.”
Last year, Island weather during the Christmas season was good enough to draw outdoor diners during evening hours. But that was last year.
“You have to take the good with the bad at this time of year. Daytime, however, people are eating outside,” he said.
Dave Russell of Rotten Ralph’s, with waterfront locations at Galati Marine in Anna Maria and on the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach, agreed that cool weather is hurting the outdoor dining industry.
“We’re very dependent on the weather. Both restaurants are on the water, and people like to sit outside. When it’s windy and cold, they’ll go into town to eat, rather than dine inside,” Russell said.
That’s not to say the holidays have been a bust.
“We’re doing real well, especially at the pier. I’m expecting warmer weather later this week, and I think we’ll be packed then.”
Bradenton Beach’s mayor is pressing for increased policing in the city’s downtown district.
Mayor Bob Bartelt discussed his concerns recently with Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale, as well as expressed them in a memo to city commissioners and city attorney Ricinda Perry.
Bartelt said he has fielded complaints about possible illegal activity — specifically illicit drug transactions — taking place on Bridge Street, a center of commercial activity in Bradenton Beach.
“It has been brought to my attention that there are some concerns and issues regarding the possibility of unlawful behavior on and around Bridge Street,” Bartelt said, adding that he talked with Speciale about protecting the health, safety and welfare of citizens, visitors and business people.
The chief and the mayor agreed to what Bartelt described as a “more pro-active” approach to policing Bridge Street, with a heightened law enforcement presence at certain hours.
Bartelt said he was confident the police department would address his concerns “in the most expeditious manner possible.”
Years ago, the Bridge Street area had a reputation for rowdiness and illegal activity, which was a catalyst in the early 1990s for the creation of a tax-increment financing district to fund improvements in the historic, downtown area.
Police in more recent years have dealt with drug dealing, vandalism and criminal mischief in the area, but authorities, business owners and residents in the area said illegal activity had greatly diminished.
“Bridge Street is a good, wholesome boutique district now,” said Katy Merman, who lives a block from Bridge Street. “But certain hours — as the bars are letting out — you see some stuff.”
Resident Hank Sears said, “I’m on Bridge Street and the pier a lot and always feel safe. But I know late at night, there can be some unsavory characters around.”
While the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization includes a water-taxi operation in area coastal waters as a long-range goal, there’s been “no movement” on the idea since an initial study was completed in 2005.
“The water taxi idea doesn’t have much traction right now,” said MPO director Mike Howe.
The preliminary study of a water taxi along the coastal waters of Sarasota and Manatee counties and up the Braden River identified the tourism potential, but recommended an in-depth study and analysis. Since then, no local jurisdiction has stepped forward to apply for a federal ferryboat grant or provide any funding for a further analysis, Howe said.
“The MPO doesn’t have any funding to move forward with an in-depth analysis. All of our allocation money (state and federal) is going toward roads” and related improvements, he said.
A federal grant for a study and possibly some infrastructure funding might be available from the federal ferryboat grant fund, but it’s not the MPO’s role to apply.
“That would have to come from a local jurisdiction, be it Holmes Beach, Bradenton Beach, Manatee County or a combination,” Howe said.
“There’s been no interest among our members to get together, move the idea forward and apply for a grant,” he added.
“The biggest problem facing a water taxi is the operational startup costs. The grant would not cover all of that, and the jurisdictions backing the taxi would eventually have to provide some funding to get the taxi operational.”
The in-depth study would, however, provide startup cost estimates, Howe said.
Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said that budgets are so tight there’s little interest on the commission in applying for a grant for a water-taxi study that might go nowhere for lack of additional funds.
“There are so many other issues ahead of a water taxi,” she said. “It’s just one of those things that will have to wait.”
MPO 5-year plan
Howe noted that the MPO’s five-year plan from July 2010 to June 2015 has $5.8 million to rehabilitate the Cortez Bridge. The two-year project would begin in 2012 with initial surveys and minor repairs, then begin in earnest in 2013. The project would be completed in 2014, according to the plan.
Other MPO projects for Anna Maria Island and nearby areas in the five-year plan include $315,350 for a bike path and nature trail at Neal Preserve on Perico Island, $1 million to refurbish State Road 64 (Manatee Avenue) on the Palma Sola Causeway portion, $600,000 for landscaping of State Road 789 (Gulf Drive), and $4,500 for maintenance of the traffic signal at the Manatee Avenue-East Bay Drive intersection, Holmes Beach.
A Bradenton Beach man arrested on charges of child neglect is asking the court to permit visitation with the child.
Lance Aaron Blaylock, 24, and Phaedra Christina Brace, 30, of Second Street North were arrested late Nov. 6 after a neighbor called the Bradenton Beach Police Department to report a crying child wandering in the street.
Both Blaylock and Brace face charges of child neglect without great bodily harm, a third-degree felony.
Brace has not appeared in court.
Blaylock, meanwhile, has pleaded not guilty and demanded a jury trial.
He also sent the court a letter asking that a “no contact” order be lifted so he could visit his child.
In the one-page letter, Blaylock wrote, “There was no violence involved in this matter, nor was it intentional. This was a very avoidable accident which will never happen again.”
A police report stated that a neighbor alerted police to a situation — a child crying outside and a smoke alarm sounding at a nearby home.
When BBPD officers arrived to a residence in the 300 block of Second Street North, they said they found the child walking in circles around Blaylock, who was lying unconscious in the back yard beside a puddle of vomit.
The report stated that food burning on the stovetop was the cause of the triggered smoke alarm.
Alleging inaccuracies in the police report, Blaylock said he and Brace did not fight and “there was absolutely no drinking on my behalf at the house with my son. I simply came home from a party that way, making the biggest mistake of my life (being) unable to awaken.”
Area law enforcement officers joined in a countywide search Dec. 20 for a 76-year-old man found unharmed on Longboat Key.
The man went missing from a Target store on U.S. 41/Tamiami Trail. Surveillance video showed the man walking out of the store at 12:50 p.m., according to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.
He was found hours later on Longboat Key, where police received a call at about 5:30 p.m. Dec. 20 about a man lying on the ground along Gulf of Mexico Drive.
The MCSO reported that the man sometimes suffers memory loss and becomes disoriented. His wife said he also easily fatigues.
A Bradenton Beach man arrested for the Dec. 8 stabbing of a man in the 2500 block of Avenue B in the city faces a $35,000 bond.
Jacob Stephen Gennell, 20, was arrested for alleged aggravated battery and escape.
Bradenton Beach police also arrested a second person, a 17-year-old male, in connection with the stabbing.
BBPD responded early Dec. 8 to Avenue B, where a man told officers he was lured outside a home, hit with a bat and stabbed five times. The man suffered broken ribs and a punctured lung.
That morning BBPD arrested Jacob Stephen Gennell, 20, of Bradenton Beach, for aggravated battery.
Gennell was arrested and taken to BBPD, where a police report stated that he escaped through a bathroom window. He was captured soon after with the assistance of a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputy.
In addition to setting bond, the court ordered Gennell to have no contact with the stabbing victim, described in police documents as an acquaintance.
Solar energy expert Tom Stockebrand of Holmes Beach constructed a solar-powered Christmas tree for Mike and Lizzie Vann Thrasher at the Sears cottage, part of the Anna Maria Historical Green Village at 503 Pine Ave. The solar panel collects energy from the sun during the day and stores that in a battery to power the energy-efficient bulbs in the tree during the night, Stockebrand said. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin