Tag Archives: Business

Bradenton Beach website still missing, officials ‘mum’

The city of Bradenton Beach has no website and no explanation.

City commissioners approved a license and service agreement for the design and hosting of a new website with CivicPlus — a website service provider in Manhattan, Kansas — in early December 2018.

While no time frame was given for the final website, the contract required CivicPlus to create a temporary site within two weeks of signing the agreement.

The temporary site was to contain contact information, office hours, alerts, news and a meeting calendar. However, as of March 7, access to www.cityofbradentonbeach.com opens a page with only a message: “Website coming soon!”

Mayor John Chappie declined to comment March 7.

The city’s website was taken offline in October 2018 because it did not comply with the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act, a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. To comply, public web sites must limit visuals to those that do not cause seizures for viewers. Sites also must provide audio assistance for people with visual disabilities.

When the city learned a disclaimer would not insulate a lawsuit, the website was suspended.

The new website is to be ADA complaint and, under the agreement, CivicPlus must train city staff in how to keep update the site for compliance.

Tourism impact nears $1 billion

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Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, chats with Antonio Saviano and Sean Walter of Premier Sports Complex before the Manatee County Tourist Development Council meeting gets underway Feb. 11 in the county administrative building in Bradenton. Islander Photos: Sandy Ambrogi
Vernon DeSear, vice president of Manatee Memorial Hospital, smiles Feb. 11 on being re-elected Manatee County Tourist Development Council vice chairman at the bimonthly TDC meeting.

Despite the fits and starts of tourism in 2018, Manatee County tallied up nearly $1 billion in economic impact from visitors.

Walter Klages of Research Data Services — a research specialist for the Manatee County Tourist Development Council — was met with smiles and deep breaths Feb. 11 when he made the announcement.

“One billion. Yes, almost $1 billion in impact in 2018, despite all the issues of the year,” Klages said.

The exact figure is $973,798,800, up 4 percent from 2017’s $936,548,700.

Visitation fell 0.8 percent in 2018, but spending was up, along with the average daily room rate of $174.70, up 0.3 percent.

The roller coaster numbers continued with an occupancy drop of 5.8 percent in 2018 at 68.7 percent, but Klages noted a 6.8 percent increase in lodging inventory, which may have played into the numbers.

For December 2018, Klages reported an increase of 2.1 percent in tourism economic impact over 2017, with a total of $48,472,000, although visitors fell by 1.6 percent. “We are still fighting the stigmatism of the red tide,” Klages noted, as occupancy fell 6.4 percent from December 2017 and average daily room rates backed off 1 percent.

“People call us all the time wanting to know if the red tide is still here,” Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said. “It’s been over six weeks now with no red tide and we have to get passionate about this. It is only going to hurt if we keep talking about it,” he added.

The TDC, with two members absent, voted unanimously to recommend spending $30,000 to continue a joint venture with the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce. The funding would provide the salary for a worker at the Manatee Public Beach kiosk, 4000 Manatee Ave., Holmes Beach, to distribute tourism information. The kiosk would be would be staffed seven days a week for four months.

A kiosk initiative has been underway for about two years, according to AMI chamber president Terri Kinder. An employee is at the kiosk five days a week, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. At the TDC’s recommendation, the county had funded $15,000 per year for staffing.

 

In other business

Kevin McNulty of Netweave Social Networking recapped social media campaigns, noting a general misunderstanding of red tide on social media.

He said pausing advertising campaigns due to red tide produced adverse effects on social media.

Sean Walter and Antonio Saviano made a presentation on the Premier Sports Complex on State Road 70 in Lakewood Ranch.

Also, Tony DeRusso, managing director of Improvement Network Development Partners, reported on the convention center-hotel partnership .

Following a failed attempt at building a hotel adjoining the convention center in Palmetto, the BACVB in 2018 teamed with IN Development, which plans to build a 250-room Sheraton Key hotel on the 12-1/2-acre site.

Groundbreaking for the eight-story hotel with a rooftop lounge is scheduled for April. Amenities will include retail and outdoor event space.

Space also will be available for an additional Key hotel.

Falcione called the construction “the most important project on our table today.”

Council members discussed a concert series underway and touched on bed tax collection from Airbnb hosts.

Vernon DeSear was re-elected vice chairman of the council for 2019.

TDC members in attendance included DeSear, Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston, Anna Maria City Commissioner Doug Copeland, hoteliers Eric Cairns and Jiten Patel and citizen member Jack Rynerson. Members Ed Chiles and Dale Sconyers did not attend.

The TDC makes recommendations to the county commissioners for projects and uses for tourist development tax revenues. The council consists of nine people appointed to four-year terms.

Anna Maria cheers Citizen of the Year

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Recognition for restaurateur Anna Maria resident and restaurateur Ed Chiles tearfully accepts the Anna Maria Citizen of the Year award Jan. 24. Story, page 3. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice

The cheers for Ed Chiles filled Anna Maria City Hall Jan. 24.

Those gathered in the chambers at city hall were brimming with excitement as Anna Maria resident and businessman Ed Chiles was named the city’s 2018 Citizen of the Year.

The chamber seats were filled when Vice Mayor Brian Seymour presented the award Jan. 24 to Chiles. Mayor Dan Murphy was on vacation.

Chiles was chosen for the honor by a committee of three — Mary Louise Seine, Pat Copeland and Margaret Jenkins — for his willingness to help others and his involvement in the city.

Chiles teared up during his acceptance.

“I’m tickled pink to have this,” he said. “I have the privilege of never remembering not being in Anna Maria. I came here in utero first, when my mom was pregnant.… When I grew up, we were in Lakeland, and when it was time to pick a place to live, I got lucky enough to get in the restaurant business here and raise a family here.”

Chiles is the son of late Gov. Lawton Chiles, who also served as a U.S. senator, and the late Florida first lady Rhea Chiles, who led the creation of the Florida House on Capitol Hill, the only “state embassy” in Washington, D.C.

After graduating from the University of Florida, Ed Chiles began his career as a restaurateur on Anna Maria Island, where his family vacationed his entire life.

Chiles owns three restaurants, including the Sandbar Restaurant in Anna Maria, Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant and Pub on Longboat Key and the Beach House Restaurant in Bradenton Beach.

Nominees for the award included the mayor’s wife, Barbara Murphy, as well as Cindy Richmond and John Chambers, according to Seymour.

Island businessman shouts out good news

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Beachgoers and a couple of paddleboarders relax Jan. 9 on the lee side of a beach renourishment groin at Cortez Beach in Bradenton Beach. As singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett would say, “The weather is here, wish you were beautiful.” Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

Business-owner Joe Varner is spreading the good word about paradise on Anna Maria Island.

“This unnecessary, elongated, negative perception of red tide has got to stop,” Varner told The Islander Jan. 14. “When does this stop?”

Varner owns Anna Maria Vacations, 3018 Ave. C, Holmes Beach, where he manages 250 vacation homes. He’s ready and willing to spread the word that things are back to normal on Anna Maria Island.

“Things are just fine here,” Varner said on a sunny day from his Holmes Beach office Jan. 14.

“I’ve got 38 full-time employees. I’m trying to keep everybody here employed. Go listen to the people on the phone out there talking to people calling in. They don’t understand red tide. Not at all.”

“Every 10-15 years it seems we get a good punch in the gut with red tide. But things are just fine here. That’s what we need to say now.

That’s the message we have to get out. I’m very vested in this island, as are many others. We have to make people understand it’s fine to come to Anna Maria Island.”

In August 2018, red tide hit the island.

In the six months that followed, there were periods when red tide blooms were intense, periods when it diminished and times when it all but disappeared. And, during that time, there was widespread coverage of red tide — some from professional news outlets and a lot circulated on social media.

Now, Varner said, “people all over think we have piles of dead fish everywhere. Social media is not helping.”

Yet the water is aqua and the beaches are pristine.

Seasonal visitors are returning to Anna Maria Island and the beaches were busy with vacationers over the Christmas and New Years holidays.

But Varner says his bookings remain below last year’s levels. His spring and summer reservations are down from a year ago and he puts the blame for the false impression of red tide across the states and Europe on the internet and cable and network TV.

Varner says his bookings have seen a “measurable drop-off” because the news cycle hasn’t changed.

“People still don’t believe things are back to normal at the island. They are calling every day asking questions about red tide,” he said.

Varner said some people have rebooked properties and were happy to find Anna Maria Island back to normal.

“Those who are coming are having a great time. It’s beautiful here, the beach is beautiful, they’re enjoying themselves,” he said.

Tourist season is settling in on Anna Maria Island, with the snowbirds returning and short-term vacationers filling accommodations.

“It’s gorgeous over here on the beach this morning,” Katy Demick told The Islander Jan 18. “Simply beautiful.”

Demick, assistant general manager for Anna Maria Island Resorts, including Tortuga, Tradewinds, Tropic Isle and Seaside resorts in Bradenton Beach, said vacation bookings are improving.

And callers are no longer asking about red tide, Demick said.

“We have definitely picked up,” she observed.

In Anna Maria, Lindsey Leech at the Duncan Real Estate and Vacation Rentals office on Pine Avenue, said, “We’re not getting many calls about red tide anymore. We had a fair amount of earlier cancellations but they all seemed to be medical- or health-related. It’s aging issues, not red tide.”

Leech said March bookings are looking good, and the company is continuing to run last-minute specials to fill vacancies.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission report for Jan. 16 bore out what islanders already knew. No red tide was found in Manatee County in samples from five areas, including Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach, the north tip of Anna Maria at Bean Point and Palma Sola Bay.

Manatee County, developers prevail over environmentalists

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Twelfth Circuit Judge Gilbert A. Smith Jr. presides at a Dec. 6 hearing about his pending decision on a challenge brought by environmentalists, Suncoast Waterkeeper and former Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash. The decision was handed down Dec. 21. Islander Photos: Kathy Prucnell
Packing up after the Dec. 6 hearing in a Manatee County courtroom are Ralf Brookes, attorney for environmentalists and Suncoast Waterkeeper, Anne Morris, attorney for the Manatee County Board of County Commissioners, and Ed Vogler II, attorney for Aqua by the Bay developers Carlos Beruff and Larry Lieberman.
Former Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash watches the Dec. 6 court proceeding beside his attorney, Ralf Brookes of Cape Coral. Brookes also represents neighbors and environmentalists who challenged a county commission October 2017 decision to rezone and develop Aqua by the Bay at Long Bar Point.

There’s a difference between applying the correct law and correctly applying the law.

In a new Long Bar Point development challenge, it wasn’t the circuit court’s job to review the latter.

Twelfth Circuit Judge Gilbert A. Smith Jr. ruled Dec. 21, 2018, against environmentalists in a 21-page decision, prefacing his opinion saying circuit courts can’t “weigh or reweigh evidence” or it would be a “reversible error.”

Smith upheld the Oct. 3, 2017, decision of the Manatee Board of County Commissioners to approve a general development plan and rezoning for developers Long Bar Pointe LLLP and Cargor Partners VII — a Carlos Beruff and Larry Lieberman partnership — for a large-scale, mixed-use development on 529 acres southeast of Cortez and north of IMG Academy.

The commissioners’ decision came after a three-hour break in a public hearing. During the break, developers eliminated their plans to build a 2-mile lagoon and retaining wall between a mangrove fringe on the shoreline and upland terrain.

Represented by Cape Coral attorney Ralf Brookes, the petitioners/environmentalists filed a writ of certiorari in November 2017, asking the judge to review the commission’s decision, claiming it “violated due process rights to a correct notice and meaningful opportunity for review and comment.”

The writ also alleged the county failed to abide by “the essential requirements of the law” and failed to support their approvals with competent evidence, including:
• Building heights exceeding 35 feet, and
• A general development plan, without first holding a public workshop, which failed to include upland habitat and archaeological sites, building setbacks, native upland vegetation, endangered or threatened species habitat, a wetland study, a wetland buffer and a plan to remove nuisance plants.

The challengers are Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash, the nonprofit Suncoast Waterkeeper, and Cortez Capt. Kathe Fannon and Katie Scarlett Tupin, Larry Grossman, Beverly Hill and Arlene Dukauskas, all neighbors to the development site.

McClash labeled the judge’s order “pretty poor” and blamed it on misinformation tendered by Manatee County and Long Bar attorneys — such as a reference in the decision to one eagle nest, when, in fact, even the developer at the hearing acknowledged there were two nests.

Brookes wrote Dec. 28 of his clients’ disappointment in Smith’s decision, as well as the original county approvals, saying they “will forever change the last remaining unspoiled coastline north of Long Bar Point.”

He said the group is evaluating the decision and may appeal.

Brookes complained the developers’ changes to their plan made less than an hour before the commission’s approval gave petitioners no notice or time for review before commenting. The county’s prior notice stated public comment was closed, but, in fact, was reopened after the revision.

The public had sufficient notice, according to Smith, who reasoned the petitioners were “participants” and “not parties for the purpose of due process.

“While participants have a due process right to attend and provide comment at open public hearings, the court is not persuaded that they have a right to have an expert review and provide testimony on elements of a GDP,” Smith wrote.

And because the changes invoked a less intensive land use, the judge ruled they were minor and the petitioners were not entitled to another hearing.

Brookes criticized the reasoning as giving “politically powerful developers an unfair advantage.”

The decision also dismissed the petitioners’ argument that the commissioners engaged in illegal ex-parte communications when county staff brought information from the developer, while the petitioners had no such access.

The judge found there was “no evidence” and “no authority” giving the petitioners the right to meet with county staff.

Addressing criticism that the commissioners failed to follow the correct law and base findings on competent evidence, the judge cited the land-development code, the developers’ application and staff analysis and, without specifics, concluded “competent substantial evidence” supported the approvals. In Smith’s opinion, the existence of such evidence was sufficient.

The commission’s approvals followed protests, which began after Beruff partnered with Lieberman in 2012, and more than 1,000 people attended a 2013 meeting at the Bradenton Area Convention Center in Palmetto.

There, commissioners rejected the developers’ attempts to change the county zoning map to build a hotel convention center, dredge a canal leading to Sarasota Bay and construct a marina and boat basin.

In a 2014 suit against Manatee County, the Beruff-Lieberman team challenged the coastal policies of its comprehensive plan. The developers lost in circuit court and lost again in February 2017 on appeal. Suncoast Waterkeeper was an intervenor on the side of Manatee County in that action.

Pete Logan, the developers’ representative and Medallion Home Building Group vice president, said in a Dec. 28 email he had no comment.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore also had no comment, texting Dec. 28, “It could be appealed, so we can’t comment.”