Tag Archives: Feature

Anna Maria anticipates soft opening for city pier in June

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Work continues May 21 on the new Anna Maria City Pier, 101 Bay Blvd., as construction odds-and-ends are wrapped up. The city now plans to open the pier in June. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Allen

Ready? Set? Almost.

Don’t load up the fishing gear just yet.

“They are putting the finishing touches on the pier,” Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy told The Islander May 22. “It’s just about done.”

The mayor said he planned to prepare a proposal for a soft opening for the new Anna Maria City Pier, 101 Bay Blvd., including a date, to be presented to the city commission at its next meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 28.

The meeting will be held by teleconference. People can phone in for the meeting by following instructions in the meeting agenda posted to the city website at cityofannamaria.com.

Murphy said posts along the pier are being prepped for walkway lighting and workers are finishing the bathrooms.

Also, air conditioning and security cameras were installed along with benches and a new sign.

Fish cleaning stations were on order and cable was to be pulled and a modem installed by the end of the month, according to Murphy.

He also said signs will be placed to remind people to social distance.

Previously, the mayor said the city hopes to have the restaurant and bait shop open in late 2020 or early 2021.

The city commission voted May 14 to approve the bid from the Ugly Grouper restaurant, 5704 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, allowing the mayor to negotiate a lease for the restaurant at the T-end of the pier.

The new pier was built to replace the old pier, which opened in 1911 but was closed after it was damaged by Hurricane Irma in September 2017.

Construction started in 2018.

Outlook: Busy storm season brewing

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A summary shows hurricane season probability and numbers of named storms predicted from NOAA’s 2020 Atlantic hurricane season outlook. Islander Courtesy Image

A federal forecast calls for an “above-normal” hurricane season and comes with a reminder that it only takes one storm to cause catastrophic damage.

“As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season,” Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said May 21, during a media call to review the forecast.

The Atlantic hurricane season officially is June 1-Nov. 30.

The outlook from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, shows a 60% chance of an above-normal season, 30% chance of a near-normal season and a 10% chance of a below-normal season.

NOAA predicts 13-19 named storms, of which 6-10 could become hurricanes, with winds of 74 mph or higher, and 3-6 could become major hurricanes, with winds of 111 mph or higher.

An average hurricane season produces 12 named storms, of which six become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.

The first named storm — tropical storm Arthur — formed May 16 off Florida’s east coast.

As The Islander went to press May 25, local, state and federal emergency management teams were working on plans to deal with a hurricane during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Natural disasters won’t wait,” said Carlos Castillo, acting deputy administrator for resilience at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“Social distancing and other CDC guidance to keep you safe from COVID-19 may impact the disaster preparedness plan you had in place, including what is in your go-kit, evacuation routes, shelters and more,” he added.

FEMA was coordinating with the state emergency management team on how to handle evacuations and sheltering during a storm. Options might include ordering some people to shelter at home, creating shelters for people who test positive for the novel coronavirus and opening hotels as shelters.

Manatee County in June will hold a “virtual town hall series” on hurricane preparation and also planned a “virtual media day” May 28, when emergency management chief Steve Litschauer will review government plans and discuss family preparedness.

“This year, more than ever, we’re really stressing that people should know the strength of their homes and whether they can withstand an intense storm,” Litschauer said in a news release. “If people live in older homes or mobile homes, they most definitely need to know where they’ll go if a storm is approaching. People need to evacuate tens of miles from home, not hundreds from home, as we saw in Hurricane Irma.”

If severe weather approaches, county officials plan to hold video news conferences and, if the emergency operations center is activated, the county also will operate a media hotline for updates.

Others with questions or concerns about severe weather can contact the county’s 311 call center.

Rental floodgates open, businesses see hope

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Pedestrians make their way across a Bridge Street crosswalk May 23 on Memorial Day weekend. Islander Photos: Ryan Paice
Traffic pours onto Bridge Street May 23 at the start of what became a busy Memorial Day weekend for Bradenton Beach.
Family members look on as one of their group lines up a shot May 23 at Fish Hole Miniature Golf in Bradenton Beach.
A couple looks over the pier and the Sarasota Bay waters and boaters coming and going to tie up at the floating dock May 23 at the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach.

It’s check-in time on Anna Maria Island.

With the prohibition lifted on short-term vacation rentals in Manatee County, hope rose among Anna Maria Island business owners struggling in the third month of restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Ron DeSantis approved Manatee County’s safety plan to open short-term rental operations May 21 after a nearly two-month-long closure due to concerns with the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The governor previously prohibited new bookings and new check-ins at rentals for 30 days or less but, in mid-May allowed counties to draft safety plans and apply for permission to lift the ban.

Manatee County filed its plan May 19 and received the go-ahead from the state May 21, and the island’s vacation homes were immediately available for guests.

The plan restricts local vacation rental owners and managers from accepting reservations from international travelers and U.S. residents living where, as of May 15, there was an overall COVID-19 case rate of less than 700 cases per 100,000 residents.

Local vacation rentals managers can not accept reservations from New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Illinois and Louisiana.

Vacation rental properties must hold off 24 hours after checkout before accepting a new check-in — less turnaround time than the 72 hours specified in phase 2 of the state’s reopening guide — as well as follow instructions for operating and sanitizing properties.

County administrator Cheri Coryea said at a May 19 telemeeting that rental managers would self-police, but potential violations can be reported to the county code enforcement department at 941-748-2071 or the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office at 941-747-3011, ext. 2260.

By the afternoon of May 22, numerous vehicles with out-of-state tags — Wisconsin, Illinois, New York and more — were observed at Publix in Holmes Beach, and the store was busy with families — sometimes 6-8 people — shopping together, mostly with no masks.

 

Opening the rental floodgates

Holmes Beach resident Mike Roaldi, the owner of two vacation rental properties in Anna Maria, told The Islander May 22 he’s pleased to reopen his properties and will abide by the plan.

He agreed with the decision to close vacation rentals until the state flattened the curve of positive cases, but he says he lost more than $40,000 in revenue.

He said the ban wasn’t lifted early enough for many properties to book for Memorial Day.

“It’s going to take a little while to get the industry rolling again,” Roaldi said. “But I think I see harmony in the future again and I’m excited about that.”

Marianne Norman-Ellis is co-owner of the Holmes Beach-based Mike Norman Realty, offering sales and rental management.

“I don’t think vacation rentals should have been shut down in the first place,” she said. “I definitely think a vacation rental would be safer than a motel because there are less communal spaces.”

Norman-Ellis said her 43-year-old business would weather the storm, but she’s concerned for less-established and smaller operations.

“I’m very happy the vacation rentals are reopening. And not just for us, but for our property owners and all of the local businesses,” she said.

Mike Coleman, proprietor of Poppo’s Taqueria, with numerous locations in Manatee County, a store in St. Petersburg and the original location on Pine Avenue, and a partner in Pine Avenue rentals in Anna Maria, called the rental industry the “lifeblood” of the local business community.

“I’m happy they’re open, period,” he said. “There’s not a single job on this island that doesn’t depend on vacation rentals.”

Coleman said he was not in favor of closing rentals, restaurants or retailers.

“I feel awful for the people who lost their jobs but, we, as an island, have been through and have overcome worse before,” Coleman said.

Brian Seymour, owner of the Anna Maria General Store and a former Anna Maria city commissioner, told The Islander May 22 he too is happy to see rental homes reopening.

The general store, an essential business selling groceries and sundries, did not close, but, Seymour said, March sales were down 70% compared with March 2019 and the store lost about $3,000 a day in April.

Seymour said his business usually lightens up in May, but reopening vacation rentals might provide an opportunity to make up for the recent losses.

“My concern is for the business community as a whole and what it’s going to be like four months from now,” Seymour said. “I think that will be the true test for if businesses can survive.”

“Unfortunately, I think there’s a handful of small businesses that won’t be able to survive the slow season,” he added.

Ten business owners — representing Fun And More Rentals, Island Scoops, Island Real Estate, Bins Be Clean, Book A Little Sunshine, Suncoast Cleaning, Fran Maxon Real Estate, Coastal Cottages, Island Retreat Cleaning and Island Coffee Haus — joined 63 island vacation homeowners in signing a letter asking for support for short-term rental operations.

The letter, sent the day the state approved the reopening, said, “Currently, there are 309 local businesses listed on the chamber of commerce website that rely on tourist traffic for their livelihood. Vacation rentals represent 85% of the accommodation types in Manatee County and thus generate the largest portion of traffic to these local businesses. Many local businesses have expressed support for vacation rentals re-opening.”

 

Island cities and concerns

But some island officials objected to new check-ins and others expressed reservations.

Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth, in a May 19 mayoral report, said it is too early to reopen rentals  but her concerns were ignored by the county.

“The chief, code compliance and I sent a letter to the county administrator and commissioners voicing our concerns, but this request fell on deaf ears,” Titsworth wrote. “The fact that this agenda item was added last minute and without consideration of weigh-in from municipalities most affected is leadership at its worst.”

County commissioners voted to ask the state to lift the ban May 19, the day after the county tourist development council recommended reopening short-term rentals.

Titsworth encouraged those who resume business to provide staff and guests with face masks.

“It is more important than ever not to let our guards down. Our deaths and COVID-19 positive cases continue to rise each and every day,” the mayor said, referring to county and state infections.

In Bradenton Beach, Mayor John Chappie told city commissioners May 19 that the county did an “excellent job” creating the plan and he agreed with the decision to reopen rentals before Memorial Day weekend.

However, Chappie had concerns for enforcement. “Who’s going to be doing inspections and overseeing the property management companies?” he asked. “We don’t have the staff or time to enforce something like that.”

Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy, in a May 22 email to The Islander, wrote, “I have serious concerns with some portions of the plan, such as enforcement and fraud and potential criminal activity associated with (the rental company) ‘no-contact’ check-ins. I have relayed my concerns to the county and hope they will take action.”

COVID-19 percentage decreases, daily positive cases

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Manatee County EMS community paramedics work with Department of Health Manatee nurses May 15 at a drive-thru specimen collection site for COVID-19 testing at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, 1 Haben Blvd., Palmetto. Islander Photos: Courtesy DOH-MC

Manatee County saw a dramatic uptick in COVID-19 testing in May.

With more than 14,000 residents tested as of May 22 — about 3.3% of the population — the county sorted out some hotspots, including long-term care facilities, and dropped the curve of positive cases.

“For the latest two weeks, Manatee County and the state largely mirrored each other in terms of trends for fatalities, positive cases and percent positives,” Jake Saur, the county’s public safety director, said May 19 during a teleconferenced county commission meeting.

He said the curve for the county and the state trended downward or remained flat since the first week in May.

The percentage of positive numbers dropped, but cases still were being confirmed daily in Manatee County as of May 24.

As of May 24, the rate of positive COVID-19 cases in Manatee County was 6.7% of 14,620 people tested, according to statistics from the Florida Department of Health.

The rate decreased by nearly than 9% since May 1.

As of May 24, there were:

  • 91 fatalities in Manatee County attributed to COVID-19;
  • 203 people hospitalized;
  • More than 605 people who tested positive and recovered.

Residents and staff of long-term care facilities accounted for 58 deaths, totaling 63% of fatalities in Manatee County related to the novel coronavirus.

As of May 24, 144 residents and 65 staff members tested positive, totaling 199 positive cases in LTCFs — 20% of 975 Manatee County cases.

State-initiated incident management teams and the U.S. National Guard continued assisting with infectious disease control the week of May 18, as they have since May 4, according to Saur.

Testing in Manatee County May 18 continued at the Bradenton Area Convention Center in Palmetto, six Manatee Rural Health Inc. locations, a state-sponsored regional testing site at the Mall at University Town Center in Sarasota, as well as a mobile site at Turning Points, a facility serving homeless and needy people in Bradenton.

Saur said he put in a request with the Florida Department of Emergency Management for a walk-up testing site.

In a May 21 email to The Islander, Christopher Tittel, communications director for the DOH in Manatee County, wrote that a team of Manatee County EMS community paramedics received training May 15 at the drive-thru testing site in Palmetto on how to conduct specimen collection for COVID-19.

The community paramedics program provides additional assistance to those who are most vulnerable, including people 65 and older or those with chronic medical conditions.

At a May 19 meeting, County Commissioner Misty Servia said some constituents have asked why the county is “celebrating” a percentage decrease when positive cases are being identified daily.

Saur said when the percentage was at its peak, the county had not tested enough people to get an accurate representation. More tests meant hotspots could be identified and targeted.

“If we see a spike up, we now have enough tests in the system to see if it’s a true spike and determine hotspots,” he said.

Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said she has heard many people say they are anticipating the end of COVID-19 and asked if some cases may linger on after the pandemic ends.

Saur said, “Yes,” and added that a vaccine must be identified before the novel coronavirus is stopped.

“To actually get out of this new world we are in, everyone has to be vaccinated and then we would switch to assisting the DOH with drive-thru vaccinations,” he said. “But for the long-and short-term future, this is the new normal for Manatee County and the rest of the country.”

County opens public beach parking; cities, beachgoers react

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People gather May 13 at Manatee Public Beach, 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. Manatee County opened its public beach parking lots to full capacity for the first time since beaches were closed March 20 due to concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus. Islander Photos: ChrisAnn Allen
Manatee County sheriff’s deputies patrol Bayfront Park, 316 N. Bay Blvd., Anna Maria, May 13. The deputies were ensuring vehicles were legally parked and people maintained social distancing at the park.
Beachgoers stroll May 13 through the parking lot at the Manatee Public Beach, 4000 Gulf Drive, on their way to the shore. Manatee County opened public beach parking to full capacity and the lot at the public beach was filled by noon.

“So we undertook a little experiment last week at our public beaches,” Manatee County administrator Cheri Coryea said as she began her May 12 presentation to county commissioners about reopening public beach parking during a teleconferenced commission meeting.

The county opened parking May 4 to limited numbers of vehicles at Coquina and Cortez beaches in Bradenton Beach and the Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach. Parking capacity was reduced to about half in the county-run beach lots and people were allowed to stay for two hours.

The “experiment” was deemed a success by the county, and commissioners unanimously voted May 12 to open the lots to full capacity and also to open parking at Bayfront Park, 316 N. Bay Blvd., Anna Maria.

The motion also included beach and parking patrol assistance for the municipal authorities from the sheriff on weekends and holidays through July 12.

“We were a little nervous,” Coryea said. “We weren’t sure what was going to happen, but the residents really, really stood out and did a great job.”

She added, “It’s busy out there.”

About 20,000 parking passes were issued the week beginning May 4 during monitoring by county code enforcement, and no citations were issued for violating the governor’s order or the parking regulations.

However, following holiday weekend-level traffic and a glut of illegally parked vehicles the weekend of May 9-10, officials and staff in the island cities opted to keep beach access and right-of-way parking closed.

During the May 14 Holmes Beach meeting, Police Chief Bill Tokajer told commissioners that he and Mayor Judy Titsworth reached out to Coryea during the county meeting and asked her not to open the public parking lot to full capacity.

“We told them that social distancing was more difficult to achieve with Saturday’s crowd and, it appeared to be the busiest beach day so far in 2020. Tokajer said that had the parking lot been filled to capacity, “the beach in front of it would not be able to handle another group from 150 more cars.”

In late April, Holmes Beach commissioners agreed to a parking plan proposed by Tokajer to remove 2,000 parking spaces from city rights of way after the city reopens parking. To qualify for beach renourishment, the city must provide 364 parking spots. Tokajer said the city will have 479 spots after the reduction.

The city prohibited on-street parking and beach access and rights of way parking April 10 to prevent crowding on the beach.

Tokajer said May 12 about 250 new “no parking” signs were ordered but would take about two weeks to arrive and another two weeks to install.

“Before we open our streets up, we need to get the new signs in place,” he said. “So we are looking at about 3-4 weeks at the earliest before we are prepared to open our streets.”

At a teleconferenced meeting May 14, Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy said the city issued more parking tickets May 9 than it had in one day in its history.

He supported the county’s decision to open public beach parking without restrictions.

Murphy also said reduced parking in Holmes Beach may result in increased illegal parking in Anna Maria and proposed a seven-day order, increasing parking fines from $35 to $100. The temporary increase was allowed, due to the declaration of emergency.

“At this point, we’re forced to react to it,” Murphy said. “We can’t let that situation happen again.”

Commissioners reached consensus on the increase and planned to meet in seven days to determine if the order would be renewed.

Murphy also directed public works and code enforcement to expand “no parking” zones, mostly in the northern part of the city, starting May 15.

Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale said May 14 that he asked the county to install temporary barricades in the rights of way along Gulf Drive, near Coquina Beach, due to problems with people parking on the side of the road the weekend of May 9-10.

“We had people parking everywhere,” he said. “And my officers had to deal with a lot of verbal abuse from people.”

Speciale said social distancing became a concern when frustrated people approached his officers about the tickets.

With the expected Memorial Day weekend surge approaching May 23-25, the chief asked that people be more considerate of officers and other first responders.

“We understand that everyone has been cooped up for the last month or so, but there are certain things you can’t lose,” Speciale said. “People have to realize, if the county decides this isn’t working, they could go ahead and close the beaches again.”

Island businesses charge up for ‘reopening’

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A family crosses Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach May 16 after Gov. Ron DeSantis allowed reopening restaurants and retail stores within his phase 1 orders.
Doug Bidwell plays music May 16 for people at the dockside dining area at the Bridge Tender Inn & Dockside Bar, 135 Bridge St., Bradenton Beach.
A waiter serves a couple May 16 on the outdoor deck at the Anna Maria Oyster Bar on the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach.

Is the glass half empty or half full?

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced May 15 that the state would enter “full phase 1” of reopening at half capacity for restaurants, retailers, museums, libraries, fitness centers and other operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The American people never signed up for a perpetual shelter in place,” DeSantis said in a televised news conference.

The phase 1 reopening was set for May 18, as The Islander went to press.

After a monthlong closure of nonessential businesses and tight limits on essential operations, restaurants opened dining rooms and retailers opened shops to 25% capacity May 4, in partial implementation of phase 1.

Beginning May 18, restaurants were allowed double capacity with social distancing and encouragement to utilize outdoor seating.

Barbershops, hair and nail salons were allowed to reopen May 11, but only 10 people are allowed in a business and they must maintain social distancing.

Fitness centers, allowed to open May 18, must adhere to social distancing guidelines, as well as requirements for sanitization.

“Bar areas” in restaurants were to remain closed, and owners were encouraged to adopt a reservation-only business model or call-ahead seating to manage interior spaces. Bars and nightclubs remained closed.

DeSantis, during a news conference May 15, reviewed what’s ahead with phase 2, including reopening schools and bars, allowing gatherings of up to 50 people while adhering to social distancing guidelines and increasing restaurant capacity.

So with beaches and businesses opening, visitors were returning to Anna Maria Island, resulting in foot traffic on Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach, Pine Avenue in Anna Maria and the shopping centers in Holmes Beach, including heavy vehicle traffic on the bridges and Gulf Drive and some parking problems.

Holmes Beach received complaints that people were parking at businesses and shopping centers to go to the beach, “and some store owners resorted to towing vehicles,” Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth wrote May 14 in an email to The Islander.

But Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer told The Islander May 15 that, besides the beach and some issues with parking, there wasn’t much excessive activity.

“We had a lot of people here on Saturday and Sunday,” Tokajer said. “But we were not overrun. We still had social distancing.”

In Anna Maria, Mayor Dan Murphy said May 9 “was one of unprecedented traffic and parking issues” due to an influx of visitors.

“The Saturday prior to Mother’s Day was an absolutely colossal day — for lack of a better word — for traffic, congestion and parking,” Murphy told city commissioners May 14. “We issued a record number of parking tickets that day.”

“It reminded me of the old days: Helter-skelter within the city,” he continued.

Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie said May 12 that May 9-10 was “extremely busy.”

“Social distancing was tough,” the mayor said. “A lot of people that were asked to (practice social distancing) didn’t really care, which was sad to hear.”

There were incidents of verbal abuse of police officers as they carried out their duties — issuing tickets or requesting social distancing compliance, according to Chappie. “It wasn’t pretty.”

Holmes Beach resident Mike Roaldi emailed The Islander May 13 and said Bridge Street May 9 looked “like Mardi Gras,” with crowds and people practicing “zero social distancing” and wearing “virtually no masks.”

“My point is that there was no sense whatsoever that there was any kind of health crisis,” Roaldi added. “Nothing was any different than it would have been prior to the lockdown.”

His wife, Carol Roaldi, said despite the hustle and bustle, Bridge Street businesses abided by capacity limits, social distancing and employees wore face coverings.

“While the atmosphere was fun, I felt the merchants were very responsible,” she said.

Officials on AMI had no issues with businesses on capacity or social distancing.

The Roaldis did not oppose the business activity on Bridge Street but instead challenged the continued limits on short-term vacation rentals, which could be changing.

“If we can go to restaurants and walk around outside, why would we not be allowed to stay in a vacation rental?” Carol Roaldi said. “Let’s be fair across the board.”

 

Vacation rental restrictions

The state, as of May 18, continued to prohibit short-term vacation rental advertising and new check-ins of fewer than 30 days.

The island cities have been issuing citations since late March to alleged offenders and reporting property owners and management companies to the state.

Murphy said law and code enforcement officers investigated 198 complaints of suspected vacation rental activity and identified 38 violations.

Three Anna Maria violators refused to comply with the state order and were given notices to appear in court for second-degree misdemeanors. The properties also were reported to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

At press time, the city was investigating another 10 complaints while another investigation, responding to a house party May 10 in the 100 block of North Bay Boulevard, resulted in the discovery of drugs and guns.

A group of people with open containers of alcohol bound for the party attracted law enforcement attention. At the property, where the owner later said his son had a party that got out of hand, deputies said there were at least 10 parked cars.

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office report indicated several people jumped out of windows into a canal to flee the deputies, who found two guns, as well as 8 pounds of marijuana and 40 ecstasy pills.

No arrests were made.

In Holmes Beach, Titsworth said the city cited “a few more” rentals the week ending May 17, bringing the city’s violations to “about 10-15.”

One alleged violation involved a lodger who claimed an exemption because he was the owner’s nephew.

Tokajer consulted with the governor’s general council, which confirmed only the owner or an immediate family member were allowed in vacation rentals before the city gave the lodger a notice to appear in court and the property was reported to the DBPR.

Tokajer has supported the restriction on vacation rentals but also said he believes it should have applied to hotels, motels, inns and resorts.

Chappie did not respond to a May 14 email from The Islander asking about vacation rental violations.

The situation with rentals could change soon, as “full phase 1” allows county governments to submit a request with a safety plan to the DBPR to allow short-term vacation rentals.

Meeting early May 18, the Manatee County Tourist Development Council voted to recommend that the county submit a plan that follows public health guidelines to the DBPR to allow short-term rentals.

The county commission would need to approve the recommendation.

TDC backs lifting vacation rental ban

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When asked what one word best describes feelings about travel, many respondents to the Research Data Services survey said “scary” and “dangerous,” but about 15.9% said “eager,” “hopeful,” and even “essential” and “necessary.” Islander Screenshot
Kimmy Kollmeyer and Kassi Childer, guest services manager and stylist respectively, are ready to serve clients at Acqua Aveda Salon and Spa in Holmes Beach May 16 after many weeks of closure due to the governor’s emergency orders to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Islander Photo: Bonner Joy

“We’re back” is the message heard from many business owners this month.

And Florida is preparing to roll out the “welcome mat” to vacationers.

A state restriction on new short-term vacation rental bookings and new check-ins at vacation homes remained in place May 18, but the Manatee County Tourist Development Council was recommending the county commission seek state permission to lift the restriction at the local level.

“We are working in coordination with the other counties, mainly on the west coast of Florida, so there is a lot of consistency,” Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the TDC members May 18. “So we have a nice, safe experience for our visitors and our residents.”

Travel and lodging were two topics for discussion for the Tourist Development Council, which was holding a virtual meeting May 18, as The Islander went to press.

The TDC is a nine-member advisory committee that makes recommendations to the board of county commissioners on the expenditures of tourist tax revenues. The council had not met since late winter, when members were looking forward to a robust spring season with an influx of vacationers in March and April.

The robust season never materialized.

By mid-March, the tourist economy had begun to shutter and nearly shut down in April, when the state adjusted to “safer-at-home” orders from the governor.

The TDC’s agenda included a presentation of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau’s short-term marketing recovery plan by Falcione.

The 44-page PowerPoint presentation outlines how “to return to the market at the proper time, with limited funds” in two phases — June-August and September-December.

The CVB would market to larger cities in the South in the first phase, targeting families with household incomes of more than $100,000 a year.

In the second phase, the CVB would extend its marketing reach to the Northeast.

The agenda also included reviews of:

  • Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport’s COVID-19 safety plan, “SRQ Strong: When You’re Ready … We’re Ready,” which states airport personnel must wear face coverings and travelers are strongly encouraged to wear masks and use mobile ticketing.

SRQ installed sanitizing stations and plastic shields, widened security lanes and marked floors for social distancing.

  • Research Data Services Inc.’s March visitor profile report showed visitors for October 2019-March 2020 down 0.6% compared with fiscal year 2019 and economic impact down 2.3%.

Comparing month to month, visitors were down 40.2% in March compared to March 2019 and room nights were down 33.7%.

  • Research Data Service’s “traveler sentiment survey” was conducted in early May, the same week that county-run public beaches on Anna Maria Island reopened and the governor announced implementation of phase 1 of the state’s reopening plan.

As restaurant dining rooms opened to 25% capacity and people returned to the Gulf shore, RDS used its database of “likely Florida travelers” to check the pulse on the “pandemic state of mind.”

The survey revealed more than half of respondents canceled a trip because of the coronavirus outbreak but two in five still had future travel plans.

About 18% rescheduled travel for June or July, 14.7% planned to travel in August or September, 26.7% October-December and 40.5% postponed plans to 2021.

Asked how reopening was moving, about 54% said too quickly, 26.6% said “at the right pace” and 13.3% said too slowly.

Asked “how much have you missed travel?” about 60.7% said “very much” and 53.2% said they dreamed “often” about taking a vacation.

Majorities said they’d feel safe “at the moment” with outdoor recreation and travel by car.

But majorities also said they would not feel safe dining at restaurants, attending sporting events, visiting indoor attractions, going to theme parks, taking a cruise, traveling by air or attending a conference.

About going to the beach, 42.7% said they’d feel safe.

People’s biggest concerns about COVID-19 and travel? Health and safety, a second wave of cases with the easing of restrictions and “not being able to return home.”

“What would persuade you it is safe to book a trip?” the researchers asked.

About 72% said, “A vaccine being found.”

Second best: “Things reopening with no increase in cases.”

 

About the TDC

The TDC makes recommendations to the board of county commissioners on the expenditures of tourist tax revenues — a 5% tax on accommodations of six months or less.

The board includes Manatee County Commissioner Misty Servia, Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston, Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant, hoteliers Jiten Patel, Ed Chiles, Eric Cairns and Barbara Baker and citizens Jack Rynerson and Vernon DeSear.

COVID-19 curve lessens, caution still required

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Staff with the Florida Department of Health in Manatee County prepare and label kits May 13 for COVID-19 testing at Turning Points, a homeless assistance facility at 701 17th Ave. W., Bradenton. Islander Photos: Courtesy DOH-MC

It’s not over yet.

The percentage of positive numbers dropped, but cases still were being confirmed daily in Manatee County as of May 17.

“The effects of the pandemic continue to rise,” Jake Saur, the county’s public safety director, said May 12 during a teleconferenced county commission meeting.

He continued, “That being said, fatalities and the percent of the population testing positive, both Manatee County and the statewide average, is finally trending downward, while the number of new positive cases are trending slightly upward.”

As of May 17, the rate of positive COVID-19 cases in Manatee County was 8.5% of 9,964 people tested, according to statistics from the Florida Department of Health.

The rate decreased by more than 5% in one week due to increased tested through the second week of May.

Statewide, the positive test rate May 17 was 7% of 653,081 people tested.

As of May 17, there were:

  • 81 fatalities in Manatee County attributed to COVID-19;
  • 193 people were hospitalized;
  • More than 457 people who tested positive had recovered.

Residents and staff of long-term care facilities accounted for 52 deaths, totaling 64% of fatalities in Manatee County related to the novel coronavirus.

State-initiated incident management teams were assisting facilities the weeks of May 4 and May 11 with infectious disease control, according to Saur.

As of May 17, 140 residents and 66 staff members tested positive, totaling 206 positive cases in LTCFs — 24% of 845 Manatee County cases.

Saur reported May 12 that the county had results on 8,511 tests, exceeding a goal to test 2% of the population — about 8,220 people of 403,253.

He said the short-term goal was to test another 2% of the population, about 16,400 people, by mid-June.

Previously, Saur said a shortage of U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved tests inhibited the county testing numbers. This changed in late April, when state and local support, including four testing locations provided by Manatee Rural Health Services, helped the county secure 6,100 test kits.

The week of May 11, the health department conducted walk-up testing at Turning Points, a homeless facility in downtown Bradenton, and was encouraging the underserved population to get tested.

Saur said the health department also started assisting management teams by conducting mobile testing on a bus that traveled to long-term care facilities and was training paramedics to swab so they could test people that could not drive to a test site.

At a positive percentage rate of 9.3%, Saur said the county had dropped below 10%, the state’s target rate for reopening established by the Florida Department of Health.

However, Saur noted some delays in state-reported test results.

“Until the data proves otherwise,” Saur said, it is likely that we will see peaks and valleys, as have occurred in recent weeks.”

 

Testing sites in Manatee County, antibodies

Manatee County is encouraging people, with or without virus symptoms, to get tested for COVID-19.

A state-run regional testing site for Manatee and Sarasota counties was open seven days a week 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at the Mall at University Town Center, 140 University Town Center Drive, Sarasota, until further notice. No prescriptions or appointments were required.

The health department plans to hold drive-thru testing 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday, May 29, at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, 1 Haben Blvd., Palmetto. A prescription is not required, but people must make an appointment and present a photo ID, as well as proof of residency, such as a utility bill. Appointments are available by calling 941-748-0747.

Testing at the state and DOH sites was provided to Manatee County residents at no cost.

Also, people now can be tested for antibodies, indicating they likely were infected and recovered.

Rapid antibodies testing was available at Ellenton Urgent Care, 4015, U.S. 301, Ellenton. People were asked to call 941-531-2800 for an appointment.

— ChrisAnn Allen

 

Health Dept.: Homemade face coverings can prevent spread of COVID-19

The Manatee County Health Department issued a statement May 13 urging people to wear cloth face coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has posted guidance on cloth face coverings to www.cdc.gov and recommends “wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain … especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”

The CDC also advises that “cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure.”

Also, the CDC and the health department urge people to remain at home as much as possible and practice physical distancing, remaining 6 feet away from others to help prevent spread of COVID-19.

Additional prevention tips include:

  • Wash hands often;
  • Keep away from sick people;
  • Stock up on supplies;
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces;
  • Avoid all cruise travel and nonessential air travel.

Anna Maria reverses gear on pier negotiations, begins talks

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Fine-tuning continues May 13 on the new Anna Maria City Pier, 101 Bay Blvd. Construction on the pier began in 2018 and is in its final stages. Islander Photos: ChrisAnn Allen
The new Anna Maria City Pier, 101 Bay Blvd., with construction nearly complete, is silhouetted May 13 in the sparkle of the morning sun on Tampa Bay.

Let the negotiations begin.

During a May 14 teleconference meeting, Anna Maria commissioners unanimously approved a motion directing Mayor Dan Murphy to begin negotiations with Mike Ross, co-owner of the Ugly Grouper restaurant in Holmes Beach, to lease the restaurant and bait shop at the new Anna Maria City Pier, 101 Bay Blvd.

The new pier was built to replace the pier that opened in 1911 but was closed after damages from Hurricane Irma in September 2017.

Construction on the new pier started in 2018.

Ross and restaurateur Sean Murphy, owner of the Beach Bistro and Eat Here restaurants, and the Doctor’s Office bar, all in Holmes Beach, were the only bidders to respond to the request for proposals in April.

During a teleconferenced meeting May 6, the commission voted to approve Sean Murphy’s bid, but he withdrew his offer May 10, citing concerns with opening a restaurant during a pandemic.

So the mayor, who is not related to Sean Murphy, told commissioners at their May 14 meeting they could either do nothing, accept the Ugly Grouper’s bid and allow the mayor to start negotiating a lease, or repost the RFP at a later date and seek new bids.

City officials hope to have the restaurant and bait shop open in late 2020 or early 2021.

In discussions May 14, Commissioner Amy Tripp said she was leaning toward putting out another RFP, mainly because she suspected the novel coronavirus contributed to a lack of bids.

Commissioner Mark Short also favored reposting the RFP, adding that representatives of about 20 businesses attended the pre-bid meeting in late February, prior to concerns over the spread of COVID-19.

Commission Chair Carol Carter said it is the commission’s fiduciary responsibility to move forward with negotiations for a restaurant on the new pier and she supported the Ugly Grouper’s offer. She also said the family-friendly atmosphere offered at the Ugly Grouper would be a good fit for the pier.

The Ugly Grouper’s bid totaled $2,376,000 for annual base rent over a 10-year lease, including the bait shop — 28.6% more revenue than Sean Murphy’s offer.

For an alternative rent formula, the Ugly Grouper offered $144,000 per year and 2% of net sales.

Ross was aboard for the May 14 meeting call and said he was “at a loss” that the commission would consider putting the RFP back out to bid when the Ugly Grouper had a proven record and he met the terms of the RFP.

“In four years, we took a restaurant in the middle of the island from what it was to a restaurant that had, overwhelmingly, the highest average experience rating across four different social media platforms,” Ross said, referring to the renovation of the Barefoot Tiki Bar, the outdoor bar and music venue purchased by the Ugly Grouper partners. “I only do things to do them right.”

Five people spoke in favor of the Ugly Grouper during public comment May 14.

Steve Rose, owner of Bortell’s Lounge in Anna Maria and a restaurant investor, as well as a resident of Anna Maria, said one of his restaurants is over water, similar to the pier, and projects such as the pier restaurant are complex.

“Any restaurant that you put over water, down a dock, you face hurricanes, red tide and any delivery you have is going to require at least two other employees,” Rose said. “It’s a project.”

He said he was impressed by the transformation of the outdoor bar to the Ugly Grouper and, even though they are business competitors, he supported Ross for the pier.

Commissioners acknowledged the public support for the Ugly Grouper and Ross’ willingness to continue his bid and unanimously approved a motion to start negotiations.

Although construction nearly was complete May 15, the city planned to wait to open the pier to fishing and sightseeing until the novel coronavirus impact has been significantly decreased in Manatee County.

BB makes allowances for streetside dining, retail sales

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A waiter delivers food to people eating May 16 in the outside “Trap Yard” at the Blue Marlin Seafood Restaurant, 121 Bridge St., Bradenton Beach. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice

The lingering COVID-19 pandemic is challenging restaurants and retailers to squeeze out an income going forward.

Bradenton Beach officials want to give struggling businesses an opportunity to make up for lost revenue.

City commissioners voted 5-0 May 14 to approve the first reading of an ordinance lifting land development code restrictions to allow open-air dining and retail sales on private property. It will allow businesses to use adjoining sidewalks and rights of way to expand their sales and seating.

It will allow for more customers than what is allowed under the state’s 50% capacity for indoor seating at restaurants and retail customers as of May 18.

The ordinance would allow a business to convert up to 50% of its on-site parking spaces to outdoor dining and retail space.

However, no handicap-access parking can be included.

Businesses also would be permitted to erect tents in outdoor dining and retail areas, as well as ignore setbacks for the temporary placement of equipment.

The ordinance states that the commission “desires to promote safer operational standards for local food establishments, while also helping local businesses as Florida begins its economic recovery from COVID-19.”

The policy would remain in place for the duration of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Executive Order 20-112, as well as throughout any subsequent orders limiting occupancy, seating capacity or mandating social distancing requirements for such businesses.

City attorney Ricinda Perry said the city would close public parking spaces on the south side of Bridge Street from the intersection of Bridge Street at Gulf Drive to the westernmost side of 119 Bridge St. She said the parking spaces would be converted into a “pedestrian walkway” separated from traffic with signage and vertical delineators.

Commissioners unanimously approved spending $800 on delineators.

Mayor John Chappie said caution tape would be tied between delineators to cordon areas from the street.

The cost would be included in the city’s reimbursement request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for COVID-19 relief.

The ordinance calls for the city to create an application that requires a business name, proof of insurance, contact information and a sketch of how the business would use its outdoor area.

Perry said the application would be posted to the city’s website, www.cityofbradentonbeach.com. There would be no application fee.

Commissioners reached consensus to create a form before the final reading so businesses can apply for immediate consideration if the ordinance passes.

Violation of the ordinance would result in the business forfeiting the area used for expansion.

A hearing and final reading for the ordinance will be held at noon Thursday, May 21, via teleconference. People can participate via Zoom by joining the meeting ID 137-695-523 and using access code 072455.