Anna Maria again is fishing for a tenant.
At a July 30 meeting, commissioners voted 3-2 to 86 the negotiations with the Ugly Grouper of Holmes Beach for the vacant restaurant and bait shop on the new city pier, 101 Bay Blvd.
Commission Chair Carol Carter and Commissioners Jonathan Crane and Amy Tripp voted to halt negotiations and Commissioners Joe Muscatello and Mark Short opposed the motion.
Ugly Grouper owner Mike Ross attended the meeting by phone and repeated his offer to negotiate his suggested lease terms.
The commissioners voted in May to approve the Ugly Grouper’s bid, entered negotiations and hoped to have the restaurant and bait shop operating in late 2020 or early 2021.
The new pier was built in the footprint of the 1911-built pier that was demolished by the city after being damaged by Hurricane Irma in September 2017.
Construction began in 2018 and the city opened the pier with limited hours to sightseers and anglers June 19.
The Ugly Grouper had been the runner up to a bid by Sean Murphy, Holmes beach restaurateur, and became the top choice when Sean Murphy turned down the city’s acceptance of his offer.
At the July 30 meeting, Ross proposed:
- A buildout costing $1.02 million, with the city to pay for permanent items, including air conditioning, electrical and plumbing, drywall and flooring;
- The city pay or provide rent credit to the Ugly Grouper for $440,650, about 2.5 years rent, for the buildout;
- The city provide the restaurant with 64 parking spaces, including 10 for employees, based on 162 seats;
- The Ugly Grouper be responsible for 25% of pier maintenance;
- The city carry hazard, property and flood insurance for the building, as well as loss of income, risk, general and excess liability insurance, while the restaurant provides $3 million in liability coverage;
- The city provide an initial 10-year lease, with four 10-year renewal options;
- The restaurant pay $14,000 per month in rent.
The proposal included a floor plan and seating chart.
“I think this is fair,” Ross said. “We could have asked for different things, but at the end of the day, it’s a fair partnership to move forward.”
The Ugly Grouper’s initial bid set the 10-year lease at $2,376,000, including the bait shop.
The offer included an option to pay $18,000 per month for the first year or, as an alternative, $12,000 per month base rent and 2% of profits, estimated at $6,500-$11,650 per month, for an estimated monthly rent of $18,500-$23,650, based on Ugly Grouper’s projected annual revenue of $4 million-$7 million.
The offer stated the Ugly Grouper was approved for a $2 million line of credit.
The restaurant attached a $1.01 million estimate from local builder Mason Martin for the buildout.
Questions and comments
Carter asked Ross about the proposed 162 seats.
She said the seating arrangement appeared to impinge on anglers and sightseers.
Ross said the previous tenant had 120 seats and more seating would result in increased revenue.
The Ugly Grouper’s bid in April did not include a seating chart but the mayor said Feb. 26 that the restaurant, including outdoors, could support up to 150 seats.
Carter said if the city must pay $440,650 for the buildout, that means 2.5 years with no income.
Ross said he was willing to spread out the cost over time.
“I want to create a win-win,” Ross said. “I’m open to listening.”
Crane asked what Ross would do if the city could not provide 64 parking spaces.
“People get there without a parking spot,” Ross said. “We’ll figure that out.”
Crane said more seats allow for a less costly liquor license, yet, the Ugly Grouper proposal is calling for $440,650 paid by the city and lower monthly rent.
With less than 150 seats, the Ugly Grouper must pay $350,000 for a full service liquor license, or settle for beer and wine sales.
Ross said his request was reasonable, as items included in that cost are permanent to the structure. He also said the proposed seating would be 126 seats, with 32 seats in a common area.
Tripp asked why the proposal includes 25% of pier maintenance instead of 50/50 or more.
Ross said anglers create the most mess, compared with restaurant patrons, who would eat and leave.
Resident Bob Carter, husband of Commissioner Carol Carter, spoke during public comment.
“For me, it seems like there is an amazing increase in cost for the city, which has already invested millions of dollars to build the pier,” he said, encouraging commissioners not to accept the proposal.
Ross said Sean Murphy’s proposal included $300,000 for the buildout, assuming HVAC was provided by the city. He said he is offering twice what Sean Murphy offered, with the city paying for the HVAC. He added that HVAC could cost the city less than his estimate.
“I’m willing to work with you,” he said. “I am willing to discuss what is reasonable.”
But Crane said the Ugly Grouper offer was “a day late and a dollar short” and he motioned to terminate the lease discussion. Amy Tripp seconded the motion.
The motion passed 3-2.
The mayor said he hoped to provide commissioners with alternatives at their next meeting.
“This pier needs to be opened up,” he said. “People need to be able to get a beer, a sandwich and enjoy their time on the pier.”
The next commission meeting will be at 2 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 13, at city hall, 10005 Gulf Drive.
COVID-19 didn’t stop the Center of Anna Maria Island from finishing a third consecutive fiscal year in the black.
The nonprofit finished 2019-20 with $8,761 in net income despite closing twice because of the pandemic. The fiscal year began July 1, 2019, and ended June 30.
Executive director Chris Culhane said the nonprofit’s financial success was “pretty wild, all things considered.”
The center earned $172,771 less than its budgeted income, finishing with $1,065,914 in revenues. The differential can be attributed to closures, which halted fitness classes and youth camps, as well as the cancellations of a concert series and the tour of homes.
Without the events, the center collected $203,143 in fundraising income, falling $117,547 short of the nonprofit’s $341,131 goal for 2019-20.
However, the nonprofit offset the loss in budgeted revenue by cutting expenditures, such as delaying $73,113 in capital improvements until 2020-21.
Closing hurt revenues but also reduced expenses, as the nonprofit spent $51,712 less than budgeted on programs and saved $56,800 in general and administrative costs.
Also, the federal Paycheck Protection Program helped keep the center afloat, providing the nonprofit with a $84,125 loan to cover payroll costs, health care benefits, rent and utilities.
“These funds will be reclassified from liability/loan to government/grant income when we receive the official notice that repayment is waived and the loan forgiven in the coming months,” Culhane wrote in a July 28 email.
The center also received a record-high $91,000 from the Giving Challenge presented in May by the Sarasota Community Foundation and the Patterson Foundation, as well as more than $50,000 combined from the island cities.
The center also finished in the black in 2017-18, with $15,804 net income, and $91,479 net income in 2018-19. So the nonprofit hasn’t had a negative fiscal year since 2016-17, when it finished $282,749 in the red.
Culhane was elevated to executive director in May 2018 after working as a coach and administrator.
Despite the center’s success, the future remains unclear as the nonprofit had yet to release a 2020-21 fiscal year budget as of Islander press time.
“The budget will remain a work in progress,” Culhane said. “Fundraising and events comprise almost 50% of our budget, and we are still unsure if we can move forward with scheduling any events at this time.”
Regardless, Culhane said the new fiscal year began a strong as the center received $18,138.93 from the Barbara Zerby Trust in July.
Zerby, wife of the late Holmes Beach Mayor Jim Zerby, died in June.
Public officials and the concerned public aired their opinions.
Then they needed to mask up, as all of Manatee County is under rules for face coverings due to the coronavirus pandemic.
County commissioners voted 4-3 July 27 for a resolution requiring people to wear coverings inside businesses. Reggie Bellamy, Betsy Benac, Misty Servia and Carol Whitmore voted for the resolution and Vanessa Baugh, Steve Jonsson and Priscilla Trace voted against.
The vote came in the final week of the fifth month of the outbreak in the United States.
The debate, not the first for county commissioners on the issue, lasted five hours at the Bradenton Area Convention Center in Palmetto, with commissioners lining up 4-3 on the measure.
Debate at the dais
“I think it’s wrong on so many different levels,” said Jonsson, who represents the district that includes Anna Maria Island, Longboat Key and Cortez. “I think it’s a bad policy decision.”
Baugh said a mandate is not necessary since many businesses require patrons to wear masks to receive service.
“What do we think we can do better than what the businesses themselves are doing at this point?” she asked.
“We shouldn’t have to mandate this,” said Commission Chair Betsy Benac. “But the reality is we do have to mandate it because people aren’t wearing masks. They don’t think that it’s necessary. They think it’s against their prerogative to make decisions about themselves, but it is about public safety.”
“It’s crazy, I never ever thought I’d be in a situation where local government would have to do this,” Benac continued. “But we live in a state where the governor has chosen not to do it. We live in a country where the president has chosen not to do it. It has fallen down to local government.”
Addressing the dais
“I think you have to listen to the facts and experts,” said Dr. Scott Clulow, a Bradenton physician who said face coverings decrease the rate of infection.
Public health agencies at international, federal and state levels recommend the widespread use of face masks, as do leading health organizations, including the American Medical Association.
Also, numerous studies show adherence to universal masking policies reduce the transmission of the virus.
“I know we hear everything about everyone having certain rights — and I don’t want to wear this mask as much as anybody else — but if it means protecting even one person it’s worth it,” Clulow said.
Bradenton resident Adam Baum also spoke in support of a mandate.
“Everybody on the board has let me down for not doing something sooner,” he said. “The fact that you guys have let all these Trump supporters and anti-maskers get to your head and affect your vote against the health and safety of our community really shows how little of a backbone you guys have.”
On the other side of the debate, Ellenton resident Gary Guerin said, “This is not political. It’s about the mandate. It’s not even about the masks. …A mandate should scare people.”
“As commissioners, I mean really, how dare you even think about mandating something like this,” he continued. “This is not a communist country.”
About 30 people addressed commissioners in person at the convention center. More than 10 more people called into the meeting that was broadcast live via cable and the internet.
Covered on Anna Maria Island
The new resolution applies countywide but does not override Holmes Beach’s mandate, which requires people to wear face coverings whenever social distancing can not be achieved. The city’s emergency ordinance does not include an age-based exemption for children.
Holmes Beach’s ordinance includes a $250 fine for a violator’s first offense, as well as a $500 fine for a second offense.
The county resolution also does not supersede Anna Maria’s mandate, which requires people over the age of 2 to wear face coverings in any indoor location other than a home when social distancing can’t be maintained. Anna Maria’s order includes a $50 fine for violations.
Both cities enacted mandates in early July.
Referring to county commissioners’ vote, Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth said July 30 that she was “very pleased that they made the decision.”
The county resolution established new policy in Bradenton Beach, where commissioners have declined to enact a mandate.
The city officials discussed the issue again at a meeting July 28, when Mayor John Chappie said the city could opt out of the county mandate, but he recommended supporting the resolution.
Commissioner Jake Spooner said he supports the county resolution because he’d seen several people in city businesses without masks despite the city commission’s recommendation to wear them.
Commissioners voted 4-1 against opting out of the county resolution, with Ralph Cole voting “no.”
“I believe in people’s freedom of choice,” Cole said.
There was no public comment at the city meeting.
Active COVID-19 policies on AMI
- Resolution 20-759: Declaring a local state of emergency;
- Executive Order 1A: Tolling of time frames for processing applications;
- Executive Order 3A: Waiving restrictions to allow “virtual” meetings;
- Executive Order 47: Prohibiting set-up of beach equipment prior to actual rental on beach;
- Executive Order 48: Prohibiting rental of motorized scooters and micromobility devices;
- Executive Order 49: Requiring face masks and social distancing.
Policies can be found online at www.cityofannamaria.com.
- Resolution 20-928: Declaring a local state of emergency;
- Ordinance 20-516: Allowing open-air dining.
Policies can be found online at www.cityofbradentonbeach.com.
- Resolution 20-08: Declaring a local state of emergency;
- Emergency Ordinance 20-11: Requiring facial coverings.
Policies can be found online at www.holmesbeachfl.org.
— Ryan Paice
Thanks go to Mother Nature.
As instinct yields determination, especially when honed over millennia, the nesting sea turtles on Anna Maria Island find their path.
Based on evidence left in the sandy trail, some time after dusk July 27, a female loggerhead sea turtle crawled ashore, across a sandy ramp constructed to help people cross a pipe used to pump sand for beach renourishment, then lumbered up into the dune to lay her eggs.
After nesting, the sea turtle returned on her path to the Gulf of Mexico.
The turtle was the first known to travel across the freshly pumped sand and nest since July 8, when Manatee County started the renourishment project, starting at 78th Street in Holmes Beach. The work to spread the sand and the equipment will move southward on the beach to Longboat Pass.
“Our girls that nest here on Anna Maria Island are very clever,” Suzi Fox, Anna Maria Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director, said July 29.
According to Fox, sea turtles are less likely to nest in wet sand that is freshly pumped onto the beach. So, true to form, the turtle bypassed the new sand and went high into the dune to bury her eggs in dry sand. That also put her clutch farther from a rising tide that could flood the eggs.
Turtle watch has been relocating nests laid in the path of the project since season started in late April. The nests are dug up from the beaches slated for renourishment and moved to hand-dug nests in a “nursery” in Anna Maria, north of the renourishment area.
As of July 30, AMITW volunteers had relocated 325 nests.
According to AMITW’s contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agency overseeing the renourishment project, nests laid after the project passed were to be left in place and marked with tape and stakes.
However, Fox was concerned the hatchlings — usually about 100 per nest — would be unable to maneuver the renourishment pipe, nearly 3 feet in diameter, running about 30 blocks down the beach near the shoreline.
So after consulting with a representative of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, a decision was made to relocate any nests laid in sand landward of the pipe.
The nest laid in the dune July 27 must remain, as too much time passed to relocate it had passed.
Fox said in 45-90 days, when the nest nears hatch time, it will be covered with a restraining cage and watched by volunteers, who will assist the hatchlings to the Gulf.
Fox said nesting season is waning on the island and across the state so there should not be many more nests to relocate before nesting, hatching and renourishment wrap up at the end of October.
And hatches have been proceeding as planned.
As of Aug. 2, 58 nests had hatched and about 3,095 hatchlings had journeyed to the Gulf, according to AMITW.
“We are pretty tickled to see that nests are hatching well,” Fox said. “Fingers crossed for minimal flooding, so as many of these little guys as possible can make it out to the water.”
For more information about turtle watch, people can visit the AMITW website at islandturtlewatch.com or contact Fox at 941-778-5638 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Report sick, injured, entangled or dead sea turtles or birds to the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-3922, #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone or text email@example.com.
A change in the vista and the ambiance at Kingfish Boat Ramp in Holmes Beach is in store.
It’s also a change for the gateway to the city.
Manatee County, which leases the land at 752 Manatee Ave. W., and the Florida Department of Transportation, which owns it, have created a two-phase concept for park improvements. The boat ramp falls within the city limits in Holmes Beach.
However, the plan, shared in late-June with Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth, includes replacing shell with impervious concrete, relocation of the bayfront picnic area and removal of mature Australian pine trees along the waterfront.
At a teleconferenced July 21 city commission meeting, Titsworth shared the plans provided by the county with commissioners and said she had met with the county parks engineer to discuss the changes.
“These improvements were much greater than just replacing boat ramps and docks,” Titsworth said.
According to the mayor, improvements listed in the plan include:
- Adding concrete in place of shell parking and driveways;
- Eliminating parking at the east end of the park until Phase II;
- Moving the picnic area from the bayfront to a water retention area along Manatee Avenue West at the west end of the park;
- Relocating an osprey nesting tower;
- Removal of all Australian pine trees, as they are considered invasive.
Titsworth said Phase II, which adds more boat and trailer parking, would not take place until the new Anna Maria Island Bridge is constructed, which could take 15-20 years.
“I did voice my objections to many of these changes and asked them to reconsider with other options,” she said.
Titsworth said she told the county that park patrons enjoy sitting along the shore in the shade of the trees, which are home to nesting great blue herons.
She also said she is concerned with water displacement due to added impervious surface.
Titsworth said she emailed her concerns to county administrator Cheri Coryea but, as of July 30, had not received a response.
Manatee County is looking for a way to lower the rate of new infections.
As the number of positive cases of the novel coronavirus increased by about 100 people daily, the county turned to an indoor face mask mandate.
An emergency resolution was approved 4-3 July 27, following hours of debate and public comment and weeks of deliberation by the county board as positive cases began skyrocketing in early July.
As of July 30, 8,337 people in the county had tested positive for coronavirus of 77,998 people tested, compared with 7,520 of 71,975 people tested as of July 24, according to the Florida Department of Health.
The rate of positive cases — based on individuals tested — rose to 10.7% of those tested.
A total of 512 people have been hospitalized and 176 people had died due to the virus in the county as of July 30.
As of July 27, 5,743 people in the county were considered recovered from the virus, according to DOH-Manatee.
As of July 30, 140 COVID-19 patients were in county hospitals, with 32 of the patients in an ICU.
At the time the data was reported, two intensive care units remained available in county hospitals, according to the Agency for Health Care Administration.
Additionally, 20 people in Bradenton Beach, up from 17 the week prior, 11 people in Holmes Beach and three people in Anna Maria had tested positive.
Bradenton Beach, the only island municipality without a mask mandate prior to the county decision, was the one island city to have an increase in positive cases since July 24.
At the July 27 county board meeting, public safety director Jake Saur said he and Dr. Jennifer Bencie, the health officer for DOH-Manatee County, requested additional ventilators for local hospitals.
Saur said they also requested more ICU and regular care nurses, as well as respiratory therapists, which the state was to provide by July 31.
Additionally, Saur said the antiviral drug Remdezivir, which has helped some people kick COVID-19, is available to hospitals on an as-needed basis.
Bencie, at the meeting, presented data supporting the use of face masks indoors.
She said cases in long-term care facilities were on the rise, possibly due to asymptomatic staff bringing in the virus by not wearing masks when in public.
“Any mask that covers the nose and mouth will be of benefit,” Bencie said.
Early on, there was not enough testing to determine the prevalence of the virus within communities, she said. Now, with more pre- and asymptomatic people testing positive, the spread is apparent.
The best way to determine how many people are asymptomatic is to test as many people as possible, regardless of symptoms.
“And that’s what we are doing a very good job of in Manatee County,” Bencie said.
A county estimate shows about 48% of people with coronavirus are asymptomatic, including children, according to DOH-Manatee.
Bencie said a recent study compared the COVID-19 growth rate before and after mask mandates were passed in 15 states and the District of Columbia. The study found that five days after masks were ordered, the daily rate slowed by 0.9%. After two weeks, the daily rate slowed by 2%.
“Masks prevent the spread of the droplets,” she said, adding that coronavirus tends to be present in higher levels in the nose and mouth than other viruses.
“Since COVID-19 sheds so heavily in the nose and mouth, these droplets are likely how people without symptoms are spreading the virus,” Bencie said.
The Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation recently stated that 33,000 deaths could be prevented by Oct. 1 if 95% of people wore masks in public.
“Now the evidence is clear that masks help to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Bencie said. “And the more people wearing masks, the better.”
A Bradenton man was arrested July 24 for shooting video of a girl undressing in a beach changing station.
Brandon Bucci, 25, was arrested at the Manatee Public Beach, 4000 Gulf Drive, by a Holmes Beach police officer after witnesses reported the man placed his cellphone on the ground next to a changing station to record a girl as she undressed.
According to the HBPD report, one witness saw the suspect place the phone on the ground and photographed his actions. The witness told the girl’s mother what she had seen and called the police. Both women approached Bucci, who fled into the men’s restroom with his phone.
When the HBPD officer arrived, a crowd had surrounded Bucci, and was threatening him. So the officer took Bucci to the police station, where he was interviewed.
Witness statements were taken and photos of Bucci were provided to the HBPD. Bucci’s phone was seized as evidence.
Bucci was arrested and charged with video voyeurism, which is a third-degree felony.
He was transported to the Manatee County jail and released the next day on a $5,000 bond, with a restriction on the use of photo or video devices.
Bucci’s arraignment was set for Aug. 21.
— ChrisAnn Allen
It’s time to put prohibition in the past.
A wave of changes made it into Anna Maria’s codes, some intended to bring the city more up to date with the times.
Commissioners voted July 30 to approve final readings on three ordinances addressing alcoholic beverages, a local construction review board and right-of-way uses.
One ordinance was vetoed by Mayor Dan Murphy.
- Removing a prohibition on establishments from selling alcoholic beverages within 2,500 feet of a church or another establishment that sells alcohol;
- Removing a requirement that a restaurant seeking to sell alcoholic beverages must first hold a special-use permit for beer and wine sales for at least five years;
- VETOED: Prohibiting anyone from exposing breasts within an establishment that sells alcohol unless that person is a mother nursing her child;
- Expanding the construction review board from three to five members, with two members required to also serve on the planning and zoning board;
- Allowing Manatee County residents to fill up to three review board seats;
- Allowing the city to designate alternate members to fill in for permanent members who can’t attend;
- Permitting property owners to install pervious brick pavers within rights of way on their property.
Both the uses for rights of way and review board ordinances passed on unanimous votes.
The alcoholic beverage ordinance passed 4-1.
Commissioner Jonathan Crane voted “no,” arguing that the indecent exposure provision, which was included in the original ordinance but revised, was unnecessary. He also said the prohibition against the exposure of a person’s breasts could be problematic.
Commissioner Mark Short supported the change, stating he wouldn’t be comfortable next to a person who wasn’t wearing a shirt in a bar.
Short moved to approve the ordinance.
Commissioner Amy Tripp seconded the motion.