Tag Archives: Feature

Island churches provide community aid, hope

thumb image
Roser Church’s chapel, 512 Pine Ave., Anna Maria, is open March 18 for public prayer — with sanitizer stationed near the entrance. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff
A sign outside Roser Memorial Community Church, 512 Pine Ave., March 18 encourages worshippers to use live streaming options to watch Sunday services. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

Houses of worship on Anna Maria Island are delivering messages of “faith over fear” in the face of COVID-19.

Congregation doors are temporarily closed, but island churches are holding services online and reaching out to meet community needs.

The Rev. Ed Moss of CrossPointe Fellowship said younger members of his congregation are stepping up to help people who are quarantined while striving to follow U.S. safety guidelines.

“We’ve got some folks in the church that are more compromised,” he said. “We want to protect them to the hilt, but also give them what they need. Even if that is just someone to talk to.”

Now is a time for the church to be of service to all members of the community, Moss said.

“This is not a time for vacation,” he said. “We see this as a time to grow in our knowledge of God, our love for each other and our serving of the community with no strings attached.”

Moss was reaching out to anyone who needed help to call or email him — and even posted an ad in The Islander — for readers who may need help with food delivery or putting out the garbage. He and his volunteers were ready to serve.

“This is a whole new ballgame,” the Rev. Doug Kings of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Holmes Beach said March 18 of establishing livestreaming services. “We were going to do it at some point, but now the need has arisen.”

Kings said the church planned to have services live on its Facebook page and YouTube by the week of March 23.

CrossPointe Fellowship, the Episcopal Church of the Annunciation and St. Bernard Catholic Church, all in Holmes Beach, and Roser Memorial Community Church in Anna Maria also were livestreaming services, as well as other online programming through their websites.

Roser, 512 Pine Ave., planned to keep its chapel open for worship, according to the Rev. Dr. Bob O’Keef. He said March 19 that the building was being sanitized several times each day to keep it available to worshippers.

“It’s amazing how many people come in and use it every day,” O’Keef, the senior pastor, said. “People really appreciate that we have left it open.”

O’Keef also said the Roser Food Pantry would remain operational.

“We have had an amazing amount of food come in as visitors are leaving the island,” he said. “We are blessed to have plenty of food to share with those that might need the help right now.”

Churches also continued to provide services to members homebound before the spread of COVID-19, as well as those self-isolating.

“If anyone out there needs assistance, we have ministers that can shop and provide them with what they need,” Matthew Nowicki, director of family faith formation at St. Bernard, said March 18. “We should take this to heart as a time for charity toward others.”

O’Keef shared a similar sentiment.

“It’s ironic that we’re called upon to be a church in a time when we can’t gather and provide fellowship,” he said. “But we are trying to be the light in the midst of the darkness so that we can continue to be people of faith instead of people of fear.”

Community center ‘ceases all operations’

thumb image
Children write and color March 18 while attending the Center of Anna Maria Island’s all-day camp. The center suspended some programs but not the camp, however, the announcement to close came March 21. Islander Photo: Ashley Friszman

COVID-19 forced a hard decision for leaders of the community center in Anna Maria.

Chris Culhane, executive director of the Center of Anna Maria Island, wrote in a March 17 community letter that the nonprofit suspended fitness, sports and wellness programs until further notice.

The nonprofit continued last week to run a camp for youth on spring break and kept the facility at 407 Magnolia Ave., Anna Maria, open “in a very limited capacity,” according to Culhane.

That changed March 20, when the governor issued further restrictions on interactions and ordered the closure of fitness centers and gyms.

The center announced it would close in an email to members.

“This unprecedented order ceases all operations at the center effective immediately,” Culhane wrote March 20. “For the first time in our 60 years of existence, the center and our staff are not able to serve the community that we love. The center staff, management and board are heartbroken.”

He also wrote, “As the Center responds to our community’s needs during this unprecedented time, we ask that you retain your membership with us. Not as a facility member, but as a cause-driven member.”

The closure dims hope the nonprofit would pull out of the red before its fiscal year ends June 30.

The center lost $103,517 in income July 2019-January 2020, but board members and staff hoped to carry the momentum of a successful winter into spring. The nonprofit planned to profit $18,000 in March before canceling the annual Tour of Homes and postponing a rock ’n’ roll concert.

However, Culhane wrote March 19 in an email to The Islander that he expects a large donation soon, so the nonprofit may end the month in the black.

Regardless of the financial result, money took the backseat during a pandemic.

“We are committed to working safely and confidently as we move through and emerge from this health crisis together,” Culhane wrote.

People interested in contacting the center can visit its website, www.centerami.org.

COVID-19 infects ‘season’ for local groups, institutions

thumb image
Notices on the doors to the Island Library, 5701 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, inform people the building is closed. Manatee County closed its buildings in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, the new coronavirus. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

The show did not go on.

With new government guidelines and policies intended to curb the spread of COVID-19, the new coronavirus, local organizations and institutions canceled events, shuttered buildings, tightened hours and closed down, all as they were in the throws of “high season.”

The Island Players’ stage went dark March 15 after the matinee, as the remaining performances of “Leading Ladies” were canceled at the Anna Maria theater.

Museums closed — the Anna Maria Island Historical Society’s facility on Pine Avenue, as well as the Bishop Museum of Science and Nature in Bradenton, the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota and the Florida Maritime Museum in Cortez.

When Manatee County government closed buildings to the public March 18, it closed libraries, including the island branch, a destination that typically bustles with activities and patrons at this time of year.

“This is an hour-by-hour emergency event,” county administrator Cheri Coryea said of the COVID-19 response.

March 19, outside the Island Library, 5701 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, patron Debbie Granger of Anna Maria asked aloud whether she should return books.

“Certainly they won’t charge late fees,” she assumed. And she’s correct, as the library system announced automatic renewals until April 15.

Another of the island’s busy destinations, the Center of Anna Maria Island, suspended sports, group fitness, wellness programs and other activities.

Executive director Chris Culhane, in a statement referring to “unprecedented times,” said the nature of how the coronavirus spreads presented challenges for a place that exists to bring people together.

“Let’s continue to do all we can to prevent community spread,” Culhane wrote March 17 to the “AMI center community.”

To notify members, supporters and customers, local groups issued news releases, posted on social media and sent emails.

Some messages contained humor, more contained apologies and concerns.

“It’s been a rough week for a lot of folks, and the Privateers as well,” Kim “Syren” Boyd, president of the Anna Maria Island Privateers, told The Islander. The nonprofit postponed its One Night in Tortuga party at the Seafood Shack in Cortez.

To ticketholders, the Privateers stated, “It is with very heavy hearts that we announce that our upcoming event, One Night in Tortuga, has been postponed. … We did not make this decision lightly. Our mission is the reason for this decision — for kids and community.”

Will organizations rescue what might be left of season later this spring?

The Privateers plan to hold their Tortuga party May 9 and, also that month, Snooks Adams Kids Day.

And the Island Players board is monitoring the public health situation, but plans to hold rehearsals for the next show, “Death by Design.”

 

On the web

For The Islander’s list of cancellations, postponements and closings, go online to islander.org.

The list is updated regularly.

Islanders cast party ballots for presidential candidates

thumb image
Election deputy Amy Krueger welcomes Anna Maria voters Barbara and Tom Ehren to the polls March 17 for the Florida Presidential Preference Primary. The Ehrens were the first in their precinct to cast ballots at Roser Memorial Community Church. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff
People line up March 17 inside the activity center at St. Bernard Catholic Church in Holmes Beach. They were Holmes Beach voters casting ballots in Florida’s Presidential Preference Primaries. At island polling locations, sanitizers were provided for door handles and ballot stations as a COVID-19 precaution. And some voters appeared to maintain “social distancing.” Islander Photo: Lisa Neff
Keeping a tradition, the results of the Florida Presidential Preference Primary are posted to the door of the Bradenton Beach Fire House, where voters in precinct 307 cast ballots March 17. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

Barbara Ehren put on her surgical gloves and kept her primary obligation March 17.

Ehren was the first to the ballot box at Anna Maria’s precinct 301, casting her vote in the Florida Presidential Preference Primaries.

She arrived to the polling place at Roser Memorial Community Church, 512 Pine Ave., shortly before 7 a.m., wearing gloves as a precaution against the new coronavirus and the spread of COVID-19.

“Passion,” Ehren said brought her out on primary day.

“Democracy,” she added.

“Duty,” she continued.

“All those things.”

Second in line was husband Tom.

They were greeted by a first-time election deputy Amy Krueger, outfitted with sanitizing wipes, three beverage mugs and a beach chair.

“I’ll open the door,” Krueger told the voters, who kept their distance.

Islanders also went to the polls in Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach to find ballots and sanitizer and occasionally lines to vote.

Islandwide, their choices aligned with the state’s and, for the most part, other states, with former Vice President Joe Biden garnering the most votes on the Democratic side and President Donald J. Trump accumulating the highest numbers for the GOP side.

In Anna Maria, Democratic voters went for Biden at 67.96%, casting 124 votes for him, and 18.78% for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who received 34 votes.

Republican voters went 91.03% for Trump and the next highest vote-getter was former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who received 4.49%.

In Holmes Beach’s precinct 303, Trump received 203 votes or 91.86% and, on the Dems’ side, Biden had 120 votes or 66.67%, followed by Sanders with 16.11% or 29 votes.

In Holmes Beach’s precinct 305, Trump received 195 votes or 95.59% and, on the Democratic side, Biden had 140 votes or 71.07%, followed by Sanders at 13.2% or 26 votes.

In Bradenton Beach’s precinct 307, Trump received 102 votes or 95.33% and, on the Democratic side, Biden received 58 votes or 52.73%, followed by Sanders at 25.45% with 28 votes.

Manatee County has 70 precincts and 190,501 registered voters. With votes 69,647 votes cast, turnout was at 36.56%.

But turnout was slightly higher in three of the island’s four precincts.

With 814 eligible voters in Anna Maria, turnout was 41.305, with the highest number — 169 — casting ballots on Election Day.

In Holmes Beach’s precinct 303, which has 972 eligible voters, turnout was 40.7%. Vote by mail, with 241 ballots cast, outpaced other options.

Holmes Beach’s precinct 305 has 1,044 eligible voters and 38.8% turned out. Again, vote by mail outpaced early voting and Election Day voting, with 254 ballots sent in.

In Bradenton Beach, with 538 eligible voters, turnout was 40.3%, with 122 ballots cast by mail, 11 in early voting and 84 on Election Day.

Turnout in Manatee was higher in the 2016 presidential preference primary at 53.21% but the choices were different then, as nominations in both parties were still hotly contested.

Like Barbara Ehren, other islanders said they went to the polls March 17 because they are passionate about politics, devoted to democracy and committed to candidates.

But more than a few — keeping their distance from the reporter — said they might switch to voting by mail before the Nov. 3 general election.

Statewide, Biden received 61.94% of the vote in the Democratic contest and Trump received 93.8% of the vote in the GOP race.

 

Did you know?

Anna Maria’s precinct 301 has 1,055 registered voters, including 327 Democrats and 483 Republicans.

Holmes Beach’s precinct 303 has 1,278 registered voters, including 328 Democrats and 646 Republicans.

Holmes Beach’s precinct 305 has 1,451 registered voters, including 418 Democrats and 630 Republicans.

Bradenton Beach’s precinct 307 has 745 registered voters, including 226 Democrats and 308 Republicans.

State, cities take measures against COVID-19

thumb image
Holmes Beach resident Terry Dunsford uses a sanitizer March 13 provided by Holmes Beach at the entrance to city hall to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Islander Photo: Courtesy Holmes Beach
The notice from Beach Bistro owner Sean Murphy canceling the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

From the NBA to Anna Maria Island, the impact of COVID-19 is being felt almost everywhere.

The state, county and all three cities on Anna Maria Island are taking precautions to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, which had infected 136 Florida residents and resulted in four deaths in the state as of March 16, according to the Florida Department of Health.

Four confirmed cases of the coronavirus had been reported in Manatee County as of March 16.

And, with 514 pending test results in the state on that date, the race to counter the virus was underway.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended nonessential travel March 12 for 30 days for state employees.

He also recommended local municipalities cancel mass gatherings. Some health agencies have described mass gatherings as 1,000 or more but others have said 50 or more people.

DeSantis, who declared a state of emergency for COVID-19 by executive order March 9, said in a news release the state ordered an additional 2,500 test kits for the virus, allowing the health department to test up to 625,000 people.

Manatee County commissioners also were set to consider declaring a state of emergency by executive order March 16, after The Islander’s press deadline.

The county canceled workshops set for March 17 but said other events would be held and buildings would be open. That could have changed with a state of emergency.

Meanwhile, island officials instituted some precautions.

Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy said March 12 that the city installed hand-sanitizer stations at entrances to city hall, as well as at the public works department and the base of the Anna Maria City Pier.

He informed the commission at a March 12 meeting of a possible need to cancel public events, including a Memorial Day parade and celebration at City Pier Park. The mayor said he plans to compile a list of possible event cancellations and recommendations.

The city also announced March 16 that it canceled the farmers’ market scheduled for Tuesdays at City Pier Park. The weekly market was supposed to run through May 12.

In Holmes Beach, Mayor Judy Titsworth told The Islander March 13 that the city placed a hand-sanitizer in the lobby of city hall, along with signs instructing visitors to use it.

Titsworth was meeting with staff March 16.

She observed the Beach Bistro St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Holmes Beach was canceled, heeding the advice against mass gatherings.

Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer said March 13 the police department is taking precautions and officers are not responding to calls from people experiencing flu symptoms.

“In the past, we responded to all medical calls with the ambulance to assist,” the chief said. But he’s halting the HBPD respond to flu calls unless it determines law enforcement is needed. “It’s safest to let the medical professionals handle it.”

In Bradenton Beach, Police Lt. John Cosby said city staff discussed the COVID-19 situation at a March 13 meeting.

He said the city ordered sanitation stations for city hall entrances, the police department and Tingley Memorial Library.

Cosby said disinfectants were placed in city offices and employees were directed to frequently wash their hands.

Additionally, public works employees disinfected door handles at city buildings.

“We’re doing what everybody else is doing,” Diaz said. “We went over the county emergency operations list and what they’re advising their employees, and we’re in the same line they are.”

Cosby said as of March 12 the city had no plans to suspend city activities, including public meetings.

The police department, he said, had no new policy or procedures to prevent the spread of the virus to officers, but the risk is almost unavoidable.

“Obviously, in our line of work it’s hard,” he said. “Contact with people is what we do.”

He added that he expected contact with people to increase because, he said, coronavirus won’t slow spring tourism.

“It’s getting worse,” he said of traffic in the city. “It’s a concern. It’s such a transient population.”

Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie did not respond to two calls March 11-12 from The Islander.

 

Reducing risk

  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water or use alcohol-based sanitizer;
  • Cover nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing with a tissue or elbow;
  • Avoid close contact with people, according to the World Health Organization website at ww.who.int.

For more information on coronavirus in the state, visit the health department’s COVID-19 webpage at www.floridahealth.gov/covid-19.

If you suspect you have COVID-19, call 941-242-6649 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday and email covid-19@flhealth.gov.

COVID-19 challenges local, state tourism

thumb image
Cedar Cove Resort and Cottages, 2710 Gulf Drive N., Holmes Beach, had no vacancies March 13, as spring breakers continued to arrive on Anna Maria Island. Islander Courtesy Photo: Alan Sneed

It seems if it’s not one thing it’s another.

Tourism on Anna Maria Island bounced back after the red tide siege of 2018 and outperformed previous years of resort tax collections, but now businesses are facing the coronavirus crisis — COVID-19.

Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, has weathered hurricanes, red tides and other disruptions to the flow of business in Manatee County. Now he is negotiating messages dealing with a novel virus with no precedent.

“We are communicating daily with the county emergency management, the state health department and the Centers for Disease Control so we can effectively and accurately communicate to our tourists,” Falcione wrote to The Islander March 12.

“Like all adverse occurrences, we will always be transparent and honest with the marketplace,” he continued.

On March 11, President Donald Trump announced a 30-day travel ban for most European countries. It began March 13 at midnight and applies to all foreign-born people who have been in Europe within the past 14 days.

Trump also announced on March 14 the extension of the travel ban to the United Kingdom and Ireland beginning March 16. The ban does not apply to U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents and their families.

Mark Stuckey, senior vice president and chief operating officer of the Sarasota-Manatee International Airport told The Islander in an email the travel ban will only have a “slight impact on SRQ as the majority of international passengers using SRQ are domestic.”

 

Vacation rentals on AMI

Jen Bowman of Keller Williams on the Water, with offices in Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach, deals in rentals, as well as homes for sale.

Bowman told The Islander March 13 they saw some cancellations on rentals due to coronavirus.

“I think some people are afraid to travel and we have had at least one cancel due to the European travel ban. We are refunding because we feel it’s the right thing to do,” she said.

Bowman said some travel insurance policies apparently do not cover losses for virus cancellations.

“It will only be covered if they took the full insurance and not just medical, which does not cover it,” she said.

Bowman said she’s confident the cancellations would be booked by other vacationers..

“I see people on Facebook still looking for lodging for spring break on Anna Maria Island,” she said. “We are optimistic.”

Meanwhile, Falcione said the BACVB had a third-party organization monitoring short-term rental cancellations and she expected a report in a few weeks.

“We have a steady business coming into our community and we believe that our statewide business will remain strong,” Falcione said.

 

Business on AMI

On AMI, Sherman Baldwin of the Bradenton Beach Area Merchants sent a news release March XX saying the members are open for business.

“You just need to take a short ride to Bradenton Beach. Add to it our pristine beaches, parasailing, boat tours, boat rentals to putt-putt golf, we have it all,” Baldwin stated.

In an effort to reassure locals and travelers, Publix Super Market chief executive officer Todd Jones issued a statement March 12 concerning actions the stores are taking to safeguard grocery shoppers, including a heightened disinfection program in all stores, keeping supplies on shelves and using alternative shopping methods, such as delivery for those people who need such measures.

On March 13, Publix announced stores would close nightly at 8 p.m. to allow for sanitation and restocking, but toilet paper, bleach, hand-sanitizer and wipes remained scarce on the shelves.

As for tourism promotions, Falcione said the BACVB “will evaluate all other markets outside of Florida weekly so we know whether or not to continue to advertise our destination at this point in time.”

The Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce continues to issue updates concerning the coronavirus outbreak. The latest update March 13 announced the activation of a business damage assessment, with a link to the survey for local businesses.

“We continue to reach out to our businesses,” chamber president Terri Kinder said March 16, adding that the Beach ‘N Food Truck Festival was postponed indefinitely and the chamber’s tourism at the Manatee Public Beach was closed to “protect our workers.”

 

State Legislature lingers amid COVID-19 concerns

thumb image
The Old Florida Capitol and the newer high-rise Capitol.

March 13 was supposed to be the last day of the legislative session in Tallahassee.

However, the session was extended to compile the budget, address the spread of COVID-19 and deal with concerns in Florida Health Department funding.

Lawmakers say they need time to consider the more than $91 billion budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year that begins July 1.

Holmes Beach lobbyist Martha Edenfield said March 12 that the tentative plan was to publish a budget without the budget-related bills and wrap up legislation March 13. Then, once the budget is inked, the Legislature would take a constitutionally mandated “cooling off” period on the budget.

Session is set to resume March 18, press time for The Islander, for votes on the budget and related bills.

“That said, I would think that things could change,” Edenfield wrote The Islander March 12. “Especially with all of the concerns regarding travel.”

However, according to Edenfield, it appears bills that were most troubling to island officials could be dead on arrival for the 2020-21 budget.

House Bill 1011 filed by Rep. Jason Fischer, R-Jacksonville, and Senate Bill 1128 filed by Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, would preempt regulation of vacation rentals to the state, but the bills have not progressed to a vote.

“As session starts to wind down today, the vacation rental bills … are not available to be voted on,” she wrote The Islander March 13. “The Senate Bert Harris bill remains in the Senate Rules Committee and is likewise not available for a vote.”

Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach have developed regulations for trash, noise, parking and occupancy issues at vacation rentals that would be eradicated if the bills are passed.

However, in an alert early March 14, the Senate reported SB 1128 “indefinitely postponed and withdrawn from consideration.”

Another bill of concern, House Bill 519, filed by Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, would amend the Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Rights Act would revise notice of claim requirements and authorize property owners to bring claims against governmental entities without a formal application process, but the bill appears to be dead.

The House reported HB 519 had been withdrawn from consideration March 14.

Holmes Beach is a party in 28 pending Bert Harris Act related lawsuits.

Holmes Beach Commissioner Jim Kihm, the commission’s legislative liaison, said March 13 that he has been closely monitoring the bills and is pleased to see they will not be a threat — for now.

“My fingers are crossed that we dodged a bullet again this year,” Kihm said.

However, he said he wants to be prepared for what may arise in the 2021 session.

“My question is: Can we do anything to be more effective next year?” Kihm said.

He said at the ManaSota League of Cities March 13 meeting, the group announced that Scott Dudley, Florida League of Cities legislative director, would speak about the 2020 session at the next MSLC meeting at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, May 14, at Longboat Key Town Hall, 501 Bay Isles Road, Longboat Key.

The ManaSota League of Cities is a group of nine city officials, each representing one of the municipalities in Manatee and Sarasota counties, that meet bimonthly to discuss issues affecting the cities.

The Florida League of Cities helps municipalities with home rule advocacy.

“It will be really helpful to hear from the state league about what we can do, as a community, to be better prepared to face this struggle again in 2021,” Kihm said.

“We are facing a war of attrition here.”

COVID-19 cautions spark cancellations

thumb image
Rebecca Boughner of Fort Wayne, Indiana, exits the Artists’ Guild Gallery after browsing March 12. The gallery, operated by the Artists’ Guild of Anna Maria Island in the Island Shopping Center at 5414 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, canceled its reception and fundraiser March 13 due to concerns about COVID-19. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

The datebook got messy.

March 12 was the day Anna Maria Island groups and institutions announced the first round of event cancellations, taking precautions and safeguards as COVID-19, the new coronavirus, was declared a global pandemic.

Calls came into The Islander’s newspaper office.

Notices arrived via email to editors’ accounts.

And posts popped up on Facebook.

First with a notice, the Artists’ Guild Gallery in Holmes Beach decided to cancel the March 13 artists’ reception and paint-around fundraiser to help the nonprofit group raise rent money for the gallery.

“I am sorry to bring you this news,” Sharon Tarras, AGAMI president said, citing “health risks posed by the coronavirus.”

Soon after, Island Gallery West in Holmes Beach also canceled its March 13 artist reception and the Anna Maria Island Privateers postponed their Thieves Market set for March 14.

The largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the southeast also got sidelined, as founder and organizer Sean Murphy announced March 12 the postponement of the Irish-themed celebration he’d booked for March 15 in Holmes Beach.

Murphy, owner of the Doctor’s Office, Beach Bistro and Eat Here in Holmes Beach, provided a notice framed in Kelly green that ended with a shamrock: “The Irish are good at tragedy … and hilarity. Our history abounds with famines and celebrations.

“In an effort to take all measures available to help ensure public safety and at the request of our chief of police and emergency services we are postponing our annual St. Patrick’s Day parade until a time when public gatherings are more carefree.”

The announcement indicated the holiday would be celebrated “a little later in the year.”

The Center of Anna Maria Island also made a major cancelation, postponing the annual tour of homes — one of the nonprofit’s largest fundraisers — to 2021. The tour of five homes had been scheduled for March 21.

“The center’s No. 1 priority is the safety of our members, volunteers, participants and staff,” read a statement from the center. “With concerns about COVID-19, we have made the decision to postpone the 27th Annual Tour of Homes until next year.”

The center said tickets purchased for $25 each could be redeemed on the 2021 tour and tickets sold for the raffle of the tour of homes quilt also would be honored in 2021.

The center also postponed The Grass Roots concert set for March 19 until December.

As of March 14, the center, 407 Magnolia Ave., Anna Maria, planned to stay open to offer fitness classes, youth programs and sports.

“We will continue to stay informed and make decisions based on the information and recommendations from health officials,” the center notice read. “If this changes, we will send out emails and post on our social media to make sure everyone is informed on all of the decisions we make.”

At the Annie Silver Community Center in Bradenton Beach, the decision was made to cancel Thursday night bingo games for the rest of the season, as well as a roasted-chicken community dinner, set for March 20.

“We are sorry for the short notice, but due to the virus concerns and close quarters at the center, we have made this decision,” read a notice from Linda Yarger of the center. “Hope to see you next January.”

The Anna Maria Island Garden Club also announced a calendar change — the annual flower show scheduled for March 18 at Roser Memorial Community Church would not take place.

And the AMI/West Manatee Democratic Club canceled its March meeting in Bradenton.

Local sports also took a hit, as Major League Baseball canceled the remainder of spring training March 12 and pushed back the start of the regular season for MLB and minor league ball at least two weeks.

At LECOM Park in Bradenton, the Pittsburgh Pirates played one final exhibition game before the premature end of their training days. The Pirates took on the Toronto Blue Jays March 12 and lost 7-5.

“I flew down to see the Pirates and Twins and I’m really sorry I won’t get to see that game,” said baseball fan and Minnesotan Carla Lewis. “But we need to keep everyone safe and healthy.”

The cancellations came in a wave as more organizations and institutions at home and around the world heeded public health officials calls for “social distancing” to slow the rate of infections by reducing exposure and keeping people at higher risk — those over age 60 and those with chronic medical conditions — from crowds.

As cancellations multiplied, some groups took a wait-and-see approach but, by the weekend, issued cancellation notices.

The Island Players had sent an email to ticketholders March 11 that read in part, “The health and safety of our audiences is of the highest importance to us. We are continuing to monitor the situation closely and are prepared for many scenarios. Currently, all performances at the Island Players’ theater are continuing as planned.”

But March 14, the theater group canceled those performances.

The Friends of the Island Library also canceled a book sale set for March 20-21 at the Holmes Beach institution.

Meanwhile, some island institutions provided and promoted alternative means of participating.

Roser Memorial Community Church, for example, continued to hold activities and worship at 512 Pine Ave., Anna Maria, but also reminded worshippers they can watch live-streaming of 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. services at roserchurch.com/worship.

Slaying it on the causeway

thumb image
Dragon boats, paddlers take on Palma Sola Bay The first Anna Maria Island Dragon Boat Festival brings paddlers March 7 to the Palma Sola Causeway for a day of races. According to organizer Melinda Bradway, 48 teams competed, including some community teams, in the largest event held in the Southeast. Islander Photos: Lisa Neff
The Invictus Paddling Club competes in an early race at the Anna Maria Island Dragon Boat Festival on the Palma Sola Causeway.
The Mainsail Vacation Rentals Team prepares to race in a 200-meter contest at the Anna Maria Island Dragon Boat Festival.
Members of Holmes Beach Mighty Dragons shove up in their boat to compete against Mainsail Vacation Rentals and Longboat or Bust! in a 200-meter race on Palma Sola Bay. Longboat placed first, Holmes Beach second and Mainsail third.
Cheerleaders encourage AMI Paddlers from Paradise at the first Anna Maria Island Dragon Boat Festival, held March 7 on the Palma Sola Causeway.
Paddlers ready for a race while dragon boats await teams at the first Anna Maria Island Dragon Boat Festival. Race day was March 7, when 48 teams, plus some local “community teams,” assembled on the Palma Sola Causeway to compete.
AMI Paddlers from Paradise step out of their dragon boat after competing in a 500-meter race in Palma Sola Bay. The island-based team also hosted the daylong festival.

They came to socialize, celebrate and slay.

And the paddlers who competed March 7 in the first Anna Maria Island Dragon Boat Festival on the Palma Sola Causeway beach also did some shivering on the windy, chilly Saturday, as did the friends, family and curiosity-seekers who showed up to cheer them from start to finish.

The island-based AMI Paddlers from Paradise hosted the Pan Am Dragon Boat event, months in the making, as well as competed and won bling.

Paddlers from Paradise brought 48 teams from throughout the southeast United States to compete in 500- and 200-meter races.

Several “community teams,” including Holmes Beach Mighty Dragons, Longboat or Bust!, city of Anna Maria, Mainsail Vacation Rentals and Hancock Whitney Bank, also competed.

In addition, participants and racing fans brought nonperishables to donate to the Food Bank of Manatee.

Organizer Melinda Bradway of AMI Paddlers described the festival, with more than 500 paddlers, as “fantastic” and provided some results of local interest the day after::

• AMI Paddlers from Paradise’ senior women’s team finished first and won gold.

• AMI’s premier women’s team finished second by less than a second and took home silver.

• AMI’s senior mixed team finished third and won bronze.

• In the first annual “Island City Championship,” Longboat Key “or Bust” won gold, Holmes Beach Mighty Dragons won silver and Anna Maria took home bronze.

• In the first annual ‘Community Business Championship, gold went to the Spartans, Hancock Whitney Bank won silver and Mainsail Vacation Rentals won bronze.

Bradway said the festival was the second largest in the Southeast.

For more information, go online to results.panamdragonboat.com/ami/.

— Lisa Neff

Spring break brings virus concerns

thumb image
People line up March 7 to order food and beverages at the Anna Maria Island Cafe at the Manatee Public Beach, 4000 Manatee Ave., Holmes Beach, as spring break gets into swing. Island businesses report increasing traffic in stores and eateries, as well as lodgings. Islander Courtesy Photo: Alan Sneed

With the beaches and lodgings of Anna Maria Island becoming more crowded as spring break gets into full swing, there comes a new concern for travelers amid the typical citations for alcohol beverages on the shore and raucous parties spilling from pools into neighborhoods.

The new issue, coronavirus or Covid-19, may keep some folks closer to home this year.

Colleges and universities across the country have called for students to reconsider traveling to a list of foreign destinations.

And, if they do travel abroad, they are required to self-quarantine for 14 days upon return to the states.

Ann Comer-Woods, director of marketing and communications for New College of Florida in Sarasota, told The Islander the school is following the U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidelines.

“We want students to check and see if their destination is on the CDC watchlist before they travel. If the country is on the list, 14 days at home in quarantine when they return before they can return to campus,” Comer-Woods said.

As for local businesses, shops, restaurants and accommodations appear to be thriving despite the virus concerns.

Dan Alderson and his family own two Tyler’s Homemade Ice Cream shops — in Cortez and on Longboat Key.

“We started seeing college students a couple of weeks ago and they will be growing in numbers throughout March and April,” Alderson told The Islander in a March 5 interview.

He also said family activity was rapidly increasing at the ice cream stores.

“Of course, our staple is our senior business, which is wonderful this time of year,” Alderson said of the winter-spring tourism trade.

His only complaint? The road construction in front of his Cortez shop.

“Who would tear up the main artery during season?” Alderson asked. Their heads should be examined.”

Hotel owner Joe Varner, who also manages residential rentals under his Anna Maria Island Vacations umbrella, said rates and occupancies were up for most of his properties.

Varner said his Anna Maria Beach Resort, 6306 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, had a 98% occupancy for February, 99% for March and reservations were at 90% for April.

“We will probably end up about 98% for April, too,” Varner projected. He said rentals in both divisions were strong.

Ben Bryant, who along with wife Morgan owns and operates a retail store, Live Naturally, 5337 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, said business has been picking up there.

“We’ve added products and people like our atmosphere,” Bryant said. “And we have a lot of retired couples coming in and sitting down and enjoying our oxygen bar.”

Four young women who stopped for bagels March 7 at Paradise Cafe, next door to The Islander in the Anna Maria Island Centre shopping plaza, said they were visiting the beach from Florida Southern College in Lakeland. Owner Jackie Estes said March 10 she had her busiest weekend since opening 25 years ago.

Meanwhile, crowds spilled onto the beach at the Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe at the Manatee Public Beach, where the food and drinks are a daylong draw and people gather for live music at sunset.

Officially, spring break on Anna Maria Island is on now, with many colleges and local school districts breaking weekly through Sunday, April 12, which is Easter.