Tag Archives: 03-02-2011

Island courtship: Brides, grooms swoon over AMI

Businesses married to the wedding industry courted hundreds of brides and grooms and their entourages during the two-day Island Wedding Festival.

The Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce this year expanded the festival from a Sunday afternoon to a weekend event, with executive administrative assistant Deb Wing coordinating the event.

The goal was to provide festivalgoers with more time to see the Island, including an overnight stay.

Transforming the event — in its fourth year — into a vacation made sense for festivalgoers and local business owners, who saw more diners and lodgers than in prior years.

On Feb. 26, festivalgoers registered at the chamber office in Holmes Beach and then visited vendors at various locations before a party under the Seminole-inspired chickee hut at the Gulf Drive Cafe in Bradenton Beach.

On Feb. 27, festivalgoers continued their Island travels to connect with more than 70 vendors at 14 locations.

In Bradenton Beach, festivalgoers brunched at the BeachHouse Restaurant and visited the Historic Bridge Street Pier and resorts, including the Tortuga Inn.

In Holmes Beach, festivalgoers watched fashion shows at Acqua Aveda, toured the amenities at the Harrington House Beachfront Bed and Breakfast, browsed a reception at the Artists’ Guild Gallery and sampled items from the catering menus of MartiniVille, Matt and Dom’s Custom Cakes, Chapel Cakes and Mattison’s Restaurants.

In Anna Maria, some festivalgoers hung out at the Anna Maria Island Community Center, where they found a  “groom zone” that featured big screen televisions, games and Budweiser, as well as wedding vendors.

The festival ended with a mock wedding, reception and prize giveaway at Anna Maria’s Sandbar Restaurant, where weddings occur almost as frequently as dolphin sightings.

Festivalgoers traveled the Island in complimentary limousines, aboard trolleys, in their vehicles and even by bike, golf cart and foot.

Beverly Slimer and Jared Lussier, who stayed overnight at the Tortuga Inn in Bradenton Beach, are preparing for a spring 2012 wedding and attended the festival.

“We’ve been together four years,” Lussier said. “We really wanted a beach wedding.”

“I’m getting a lot of ideas,” said Slimer, the winner of a three-night stay in the resort’s annual wedding contest. “Everything we are looking for is right here.”

Some of the ideas came from Melissa and Chris Varga, who married at the Sandbar Restaurant in the past year. The couple attended a previous Island Wedding Festival and returned this year to talk up a ceremony in Florida’s “Beach Wedding Capital.”

“I did a lot of research,” Melissa Varga said of her wedding planning.

“Anna Maria Island is a special little place for us,” Chris Varga said. He said the couple had discussed a destination wedding, including possibly one in Mexico. They visited Anna Maria Island often and one day on the beach, an idea clicked.

“We love this place so much,” Melissa Varga said. “It found us. It was meant to be.”

Organizers, as The Islander went to press, still were evaluating festival attendance. More than 800 people were expected.

Tortuga awards wedding contest prize

The winners of an Island resort Seashells Wedding Bells Win-A-Wedding Contest are Beverly Slimer and Jared Lussier of Tampa.

The couple attended the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce’s Island Wedding Festival Feb. 26-27, and received their prize basket during a poolside party at Tortuga Inn in Bradenton Beach Feb. 26.

The prize, offered by Tortuga Inn/Tradewinds/Seaside Inn beach resorts, included a Tiffany sterling silver key with chain and a $100 Tiffany gift certificate in the famed blue box.

The prize also included three free nights in a resort apartment, a bottle of Champagne, a box of chocolates, an arrangement of white roses, bride and groom T-shirts, a $100 gift certificate to a Chiles Group restaurant and room discounts for the wedding party.

Debbie Lussier, the mother of the groom, entered for the couple online at www.tortugainn.com and guessed the number of shells in a Tiffany vase.

The couple plans to marry next spring.

Mediation ordered for Nally v. Anna Maria

Circuit Court Judge Peter Dubensky recently ordered all parties in the William and Barbara Nally v. Anna Maria lawsuit to attend a mediation hearing to determine if the suit can be settled without a trial.

Dubensky issued his order Feb. 16 and gave the parties — the Nallys, the city and Pine Avenue Restoration LLC — 30 days to agree on a mediator.

Pine Avenue Restoration LLC was granted intervenor status in the case by Dubensky.

The Nallys sued Anna Maria in March 2010 for the city’s approval of a PAR site-plan for 216 Pine Ave., which is now built and occupied by tenants.

If a satisfactory mediation of the lawsuit cannot be reached, Dubensky ordered a non-jury trial to be held within a two-week period that starts at 8:30 a.m. June 13 at the Manatee County Judicial Center.

At the same time as the judge’s orders for mediation and a non-jury trial, the Nallys filed a motion seeking to strike PAR’s affirmative defense of the suit, which is based on requiring the Nallys to name PAR as an indispensible party.

Dubensky scheduled a hearing on that motion for April 6.

The Nallys allege in their lawsuit that the city’s method of determining density when it approved the PAR site plan for 216 Pine Ave. should have been calculated “on individual parcels.” That method, the Nallys claim, puts the density at the PAR site at 8.7 units per acre, higher than the six units per acre they say are allowed by the comprehensive plan.

In addition, the Nallys claim they are “an aggrieved party” and the complex built by PAR at 216 Pine Ave. affects their “health, safety and welfare.”

Anna Maria’s response to the Nally claims is that the smaller lots that make up the development at 216 Pine Ave. are grandfathered for use by the city and its density calculation method was accepted by the Florida Department of Community Affairs as consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan.

Mayors question bridge study need

Island mayors shared no enthusiasm for the Florida Department of Transportation’s announcement that it plans a $1.5 million project development and environmental study to determine a replacement for the Cortez Bridge.

“It’s a total waste of taxpayer money,” said Bradenton Beach Mayor Bob Bartelt, whose city would be most affected by any new bridge construction.

“You don’t need a survey to tell you that Islanders and Cortez residents don’t want a high-rise bridge, they want the same type of bridge as now. And it’s the only bridge style that fits the space. I don’t think spending money on a study is a smart idea,” he said.

Bartelt said there is little room at either end of the bridge for the ramp space required for a high-rise bridge.

“They would have to have the ramp onto the Island end about 200 feet out in the water,” he said.

The DOT should concentrate on a low-rise drawbridge, according to Bartelt.

Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger concurred: The study would be a waste of money. Although, he said, the DOT has to follow its own procedures and produce a study before any replacement begins.

Bohnenberger remembered the 1990s, when the DOT didn’t follow its own rules and tried to get a high-rise replacement for the Manatee Bridge built without a proper study.

“Everyone’s treading on water now. I’m sure a study has to be done, but I think it’s pretty much pre-determined that it would have to be a drawbridge that’s a maximum of 45 feet high, if that,” Bohnenberger said.

“There is no way there’s enough land on either side that it could ever be a fixed-span, high-rise bridge,” he added. Bohnenberger said the current height of about 25 feet is sufficient.

While the study is apparently necessary, said Bohnenberger, it’s still “a lot of money to spend” on a question that every Islander can answer.

Anna Maria Mayor Mike Selby agreed with his colleagues that the study is a “waste of taxpayer money.” He noted Anna Maria residents would be minimally impacted if the bridge were renovated, but not closed during repairs.

During the DOT’s 1995 Cortez Bridge renovation project, the bridge was scheduled a 30-day closure in October. Construction delays, however, pushed the opening to the first week in December, much to the consternation of many Islanders, Island business owners and visitors.

During the DOT’s 2008 renovation project for the Anna Maria Island Bridge, the span was closed for nearly six weeks, and all traffic was diverted to the Cortez and Longboat Pass bridges.

That closure, from Sept. 28, 2008, to Nov. 7, 2008, prompted a decline in Island tourism and retail sales and a number of small businesses closed.

Selby said he would not want to see the Cortez Bridge closed for any reason and a fixed-span, high-rise bridge is “out of the question.”

Bohnenberger observed that any closure of the Cortez Bridge for an extended period would put “pressure” on the AMI Bridge to accommodate nearly all the traffic to and from the Island.

DOT officials in Bartow are proceeding with the PD&E study as a requirement for funding a replacement bridge.

“We need the study to tell us what’s the best replacement for the bridge,” DOT spokesperson Lauren Hatchell said. She added that public hearings would be held before the DOT submits a recommendation to the U.S. Coast Guard.

The present Cortez Bridge was built in 1956 and has been renovated on several occasions. DOT officials say the bridge was built with a life span of 50 years.

The 1995 project was intended to keep the bridge operating for another 15-20 years, DOT officials then said. Other renovations and repairs to the Cortez Bridge have taken place periodically since 1995.

The level of service for the Cortez Bridge is at 5, the minimum service level for any Florida bridge to remain operational. Some emergency repairs might keep the bridge open if the service level drops to 4 or below, the DOT said, but DOT engineers say a new bridge is needed.

Officials estimated it would take several years before any Cortez Bridge replacement could be authorized and funded.

Following a similar study and public hearings on the AMI Bridge in 2009, the DOT recommended a two-lane, 65-foot-high, fixed-span replacement that would be begin about 20 feet south of the present bridge’s eastern approach. That would allow vehicular and pedestrian traffic on the bridge while the new structure is under construction.

DOT officials in 2008 estimated it would take 10-15 years before funding would be available and permits and construction could begin for a new AMI Bridge.

A DOT survey conducted in late 2008 found 82 percent of Islanders favored a fixed-span, high-rise bridge as a replacement for the AMI Bridge, but were opposed to any widening of the bridge to four lanes.

The DOT agreed.

Billie Martini of the Save Anna Maria Inc., a grassroots organization, said her group is opposed to both the planned AMI Bridge and any replacement for the Cortez Bridge.

However, said Martini, the group’s opposition is likely to have little influence on the DOT plans.

“All we can do is protest when they have their meetings,” she said.

New cafe operator surpassing old

Although Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore was opposed to the county commission’s decision in May 2010 to award the lease for the concession at the county-run Manatee Public Beach to a new operator, she’s changed her tune.

After viewing the revenue figures and rent payments for the first five months of operation by United Park Services of Tampa, Whitmore said she is “impressed.”

UPS outperformed former operator P.S. Beach by $43,784 in total revenues for the last five months of 2010 compared to the same period in 2009 when P.S. Beach had the lease.

With rent payments to the county under the UPS contract based partially on a percentage of gross revenues for the restaurant and gift shop, Manatee County did better with UPS than with P.S. Beach.

UPS has a separate contract for the concession at Coquina Beach, while P.S. Beach included that operation in its contract. All the figures reported contain both Coquina Beach and cafe-gift shop revenues for both P.S. Beach and UPS.

For the last five months of 2010, the county received $54,398 more in rent payments than what P.S. Beach paid for the same period in 2009.

Total gross revenues reported by UPS for the August-December 2010 period were $889,668, while P.S. Beach had revenues of $845,884 for the same five months of 2009.

During the third quarter of 2010, UPS was only required to pay rent for August and September. That figure came to $57,817, according to Nick Azzara, county information outreach coordinator. Because UPS took over cafe operations July 21, 2010, the contract did not require a July rent payment.

The $22,008 UPS two-month payment bested the $35,809 three-month payment made by P.S. Beach for the same quarter when calculated on a monthly average.

Whitmore told members of the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce board of directors recently that based on UPS’ performance, it is now time to “get behind them and support them.

“I was originally opposed, but the county is doing much better in rent payments than before,” she said.

P.S. Beach and the Beach Shop had held the lease since 1992. The lease had been renewed every five years by the county commission until 2010, when Manatee County administrator Ed Hunzeker put it out for bid.

A three-member panel of county staff recommended the lease be awarded to UPS, although the P.S. Beach final offer was equal to that of UPS. UPS also operates a concession at Fort DeSoto Park, and its owners operate several businesses in Tampa.

Several hundred people showed up in support of P.S. Beach at the county commission meeting in May 2010 before the vote.

County commissioners Whitmore, John Chappie and Joe McClash opposed the change in operators, but without success. The contract was awarded to UPS, 4-3.

Whitmore said she’s had to change her mind about UPS.

“I can’t argue with the figures and that’s what it’s all about,” she said. “We have to support them.”

Under its contract, which differs from the PS Beach contract, UPS pays a flat rate of $342,000 in annual rent plus 4 percent of the revenues in excess of $2.5 million. For Coquina Beach, UPS is paying 8 percent of gross revenues in monthly rent, according to Azzara.

Chiles challenges Center to burn the mortgage

The Anna Maria Island Community Center has reconvened its capital campaign committee — consisting of Ed Chiles and Trudy and Stewart Moon — and tasked it with paying off the center’s mortgage in five years.

Center executive director Pierrette Kelly said the mortgage would cost $1.3 million to pay off now.

“Paying off the mortgage is our No. 1 commitment,” she said. “It’s an anchor around the Center’s neck. Once we’re done we can move forward easily.”

Out of the gate, Chiles challenged Center board members to raise $100,000 through personal gifts and identifying potential donors to commit to a five-year campaign. In return, Chiles committed to personally donate $50,000, as well as assist board members in asking major donors to contribute.

Kelly said a capital campaign wasn’t launched when the new building opened in 2007 because the economy took a downturn. The Center is nearing the end of its loan and the committee is focused on “burning the mortgage.”

“We want the mortgage paid off and the Center financially able to meet the needs of those we serve today,” said Kelly. “And, we want the ability to secure our future through planned giving and endowment investments to meet the needs of generations to come.”

Kelly told board members at a recent meeting about Chiles’ commitment and asked them to consider making a commitment as well.

Outgoing treasurer Bill Ford didn’t hesitate to accept the challenge and pledged $5,000 over a five-year period to the capital campaign. Board secretary Monica Simpson followed with a matching pledge.

“We, as a board, need to show our commitment to this campaign,” said Ford. “And I’m confident we can get [the mortgage] paid off.”

Upcoming fundraising events

The Center board is gearing up for several fundraising events in the spring, including the annual Tour of Homes and the annual An Affaire to Remember.

First up is the 18th annual Tour of Homes. Board members have been charged with selling tickets for a chance to win the Eyeland Needlers’ “Feeling Beachy” themed quilt.

Quilter Joan Pettigrew told board members, “Last year we ran out of tickets and had to print 500 more to sell the day of the event.”

The tour is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 19, and includes select Island properties in Anna Maria and Holmes Beach.

Tour tickets went on sale March 1 and cost $20. Chance tickets cost $1 each or $5 for six.

The Waterfront Restaurant, 111 S. Bay Blvd., Anna Maria, is offering a wine and cheese tasting in conjunction with the tour for a $10 donation.

The next fundraiser planned for the Center is a wine tasting on March 23 at Harry’s Continental Kitchens.

Tickets also are $10 and include appetizers. The tasting will be from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at 525 St. Judes Drive, Longboat Key.

The wine tasting at Harry’s is a pre-Affaire to Remember event said Kelly.

An Affaire to Remember is one of the Center’s largest fundraisers.

“Our event has raised more than $4 million in the past 16 years,” said event chair Trudy Moon. “We’re known for having the best trips and unique auction items. There is no better outlet for people who want to have a good time and give to charity.”

Last year, the event drew 354 people. This year the committee is hoping to make space for more attendees by moving the silent auction into an outdoor tent.

The tent will be nestled up to the auditorium exit, said Center assistant executive director Scott Dell, so that it extends the space of the room.

Board members learned that Lee Greenwood will return to entertain and has agreed to hold a pre-event concert and “Very Important Patrons” party in the auction tent.

Harry’s Continental Kitchens will host a sushi bar during the pre-event, and VIP attendees will get a preview of the silent auction.

Moon said the VIP event with Greenwood has been a good draw for ticket sales so far.

Moon told the board the outlook for this year’s event is positive. “The economy is ready and we’re ready. People [who haven’t donated or participated in the past few years] are starting to come back.”

Tickets for the gala start at $175 per person. The event will be held at the Center Saturday, April 2.

For more information about any of the Center’s upcoming events, call the Center at 941-778-1908.

Cortez fest nets 27,000 folks

Organizers of the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival are still calculating dollars and cents, but the two-day event held Feb. 19-20 drew about 27,000 people.

“All in all, it went beyond our wildest expectations,” said one of the festival organizers, Jane von Hahmann, a former county commissioner and a Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage officer.

The crowd seemed “as large as we have ever seen in the past,” said John Stevely, another organizer. “Many vendors reported they were just about sold out by the end of the festival.”

With $2 admissions and vendor dues, the annual event raises money for FISH, which in turn invests the funds in preserving environmentally sensitive property in the historic fishing village. The FISH Preserve on the north side of Cortez consists of 95 acres of undeveloped mangrove wetlands and uplands.

The 2011 festival moved from the south side of the village to the north side. The event, featuring live music, arts and crafts vendor, fishing and crabbing demonstrations, children’s games and food aplenty, was held at the entrance to the preserve on the Florida Maritime Museum grounds, along 119th Street and on the waterfront.

The menu included smoked mullet, fried green tomatoes, crab cakes, conch fritters, Italian ice, strawberry shortcake, stone crab claws, funnel cakes, jambalaya, turkey legs, corn dogs, sloppy joes, ice cream, chowder, boiled peanuts, grouper and multiple types of shrimp.

The music genres included country, bluegrass, blues, rock and pop.

“The festival location got super reviews, as did the entertainment this year,” said von Hahmann, whose son, country-rock artist Eric von Hahmann, was a featured performer both Feb. 19 and Feb. 20. “I don’t think I have heard a single negative comment from attendees, our vendors or our musicians. Everyone had awesome days with the incredible weather.”

Festivalgoers said they thought the festival offered more vendors, entertainers and space than in years past.

Von Hahmann said she heard festivalgoers say, more than once, “At least I wasn’t having to worry about spilling my beer on someone as I walked.”

Stevely said, “I asked people … if they had been to past festivals and whether they liked the new festival grounds. It is fair to say that it was just about unanimous that they preferred the new venue. The additional space gave everyone a little more room to breathe and enjoy the festival.”

For the volunteers, the festival involved at least three days of work on the grounds, with Feb. 18 as a set-up day.

But the planning began about a year ago.

Just as planning already is beginning fro the 2012 festival.

“We are getting excited now about next year,” von Hahmann said. “Ideas are already flying on how we can improve what we did this year.”

Holmes Beach requests survey of Bimini Bay

Holmes Beach superintendent of public works Joe Duennes has requested that Manatee County Commissioners add the channel of Bimini Bay in Holmes Beach that connects to Bimini Bay in Anna Maria to a list of pre-dredge survey sites to be conducted by the West Coast Inland Navigation District.

In correspondence to the commission, Duennes said that local boaters are reporting that the interior channel connecting the cities is only navigable at high tide.

The channel is reported by boaters to be only 3 feet deep during mean lower low water tides. A survey is needed to determine the actual condition of the waterway.

Duennes said maintenance of the channel belongs with Manatee County.

No-kill policy works for humane society

Humane Society of Manatee County’s board of directors recruited Denise Deisler two years ago for the specific purpose of transitioning the organization to a no-kill facility.

Deisler had successfully transitioned the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Richmond, Va., from a high euthanasia rate to a no-kill facility.

Deisler is quick to note that she didn’t swoop in and turn the local humane society into a no-kill shelter. “My hat goes off to the board of directors for doing great legwork,” she said. “This board did strategic planning studies. They visited organizations, including the Richmond SPCA, that are not killing animals and had some major points already properly aligned before they recruited me.”

The board believed a no-kill community was possible. After researching other no-kill communities, the board identified missing ingredients in its own organization.

The first missing ingredient was that Manatee County did not have an affordable spay/neuter clinic.

“It just wasn’t here,” said Deisler. “There was a small mobile unit that would come in on contract, but there was nothing affordable or accessible to the public.”

The second missing ingredient was support for the organizations working to trap-neuter-release feral cats. Volunteers trapping feral cats had to pay private veterinarians to spay or neuter the animals. There was no affordable alternative.

So, the humane society stepped up to the plate on both counts.

The organization began by offering a Feral Sunday program, working with TNR groups to provide free spay/neuter services.

“We paid for the medical oversight, staffed our clinic with volunteer veterinarians and for the first time a number of organizations set aside all differences and came together,” said Deisler. “It was a very important step for our community.”

The organization is unique in that it maintains a full time medical staff, so it is able to open its clinic to the public with affordable service rates. Grant money helps them provide clinic services Monday through Friday. It has since stopped the Feral Sunday program and let TNR caregivers bring in feral cats without an appointment.

Providing the TNR program doubled the number of feral cats being spayed or neutered. “One of the leading contributors to kill rates in Florida is the babies feral cats have,” she explained. “Well-intentioned people pick up the kittens, and if they aren’t weaned they can’t be socialized or sent back into its feral cat community. A feral cat’s odds of getting out of a shelter alive is one in four. ”

Deisler noted that Florida’s mild climate enables cats to reproduce all year long, while in northern, colder climates a cat might only produce one litter of kittens. Anna Maria Island and Cortez, for example, have sizable feral cat populations.

“If we don’t want to pick up and euthanize cats, then we need to stop them from reproducing,” she said.

When the humane society takes care of a feral cat, the staff clips a v-shaped notch into its ear. This signals that the cat is part of a feral community and has been spayed/neutered and vaccinated.

Deisler has established a partnership with Manatee County Animal Services regarding feral cats. She said that in the past, when a cat with a notch in its ear was picked up by animal services, it was an automatic death sentence.

“The notch immediately signaled that the cat was feral and unadoptable,” she explained.

However, the humane society requires all the feral cats to be given a microchip. The microchip makes it possible to identify the neighborhood the cat came from, and most feral cat communities have a caregiver within the neighborhood looking after them, be it a homeowner or business owner.

Deisler said in the past year animal services has agreed to call the humane society when it picks up a feral cat with a notched ear instead of euthanizing it.

“We have already invested the money to vaccinate and alter the cat. Shelters are already stressed out about limited space and no one will adopt a feral cat.

“But a cat with a notched ear already has a home,” said Deisler. “So now the notch serves as a get-out-of-jail-free card instead of a death sentence.”

Deisler said there is no question the TNR efforts made in the past two years save lives.

She said in the two years the clinic has been open and a proactive TNR program has been in place, that the number of animals going to animal services has been reduced 20 percent.

“That’s 1,000 cats and dogs that did not go to a shelter,” she said.

Deisler believes that adopting animals alone is not what it takes to become a successful no-kill community.     She pointed out there are dozens of organizations pulling animals from animal services and adopting them out. She notes that Bishop Animal Shelter in Bradenton also does a fabulous job, with adoption rates averaging more than 1,000 adoptions annually.

Deisler explained that by law an animal picked up without any identification has a minimum of five days in at animal services before it is at risk for euthanization. An animal with identification is kept in the shelter a minimum of 10 days.

“Prevention is the most cost-effective way to reduce the number of animals in the shelter, so that the shelter doesn’t become overburdened,” she said.

The humane society has reduced the number of animals it shelters by putting retention programs in place. If a pet owner comes to surrender an animal the humane society won’t automatically take it. First, staff members will ask about the owner’s circumstances. If it is a matter of food, then the owner will be directed to free food from the organization’s food pantry. If the animal has a behavioral problem, staff members offer training services.

“We understand giving up an animal is a tough decision,” said Deisler. “Generally if someone comes to us it’s because they care about what happens to the animal, and, a third of the time, just by talking about the extenuating circumstances the owner is able to keep the animal.

“Most of the time people are willing to work to keep the animal, they just don’t know it’s an option,” said Deisler.

Deisler said she is willing to help Manatee County government implement similar services.

She said kill rates can be reduced to a minimal number with affordable clinic services, a proactive TNR program, retention programs, and by utilizing foster families to care for animals. Using foster families frees up space in shelters.

One of the changes in working with animal services Deisler insisted upon was opening up the ability to transfer animals out of the county shelter to any legally operating non-profit organization.

Before 2010, only Bishop and the humane society could transfer animals. Deisler lobbied to have the ordinance changed, and, in the past year transfer rates have increased.

Overall, the programs the humane society put in place have enabled it to stop killing animals, with the exception of those that are not medically treatable.

Between October and December 2010, the humane society euthanized three animals, returned five to owners and adopted out 130 animals while only taking in 126.

The organization has reduced the number of animals surrendered by owners by at least 30 percent and has increased the number of spay/neuter surgeries from 3,000 to 10,000.

The organization publishes its statistics as well as a breakdown of its income and expenses online at www.humanemanatee.org.