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A one-issue election

GENE JALESKI

Guest Columnist

opinion@lbknews.com

Until three weeks ago the race for the commission seat now occupied by Dave Brenner was a relative sleeper. There were no “big” issues, only general, yet vitally important, philosophical positions. There was nothing for the voter to get her/his teeth into.

That all changed when the community became aware that there were in fact developers interested in building a “150-room hotel” on the strip of commercial property north of Whitney Beach Plaza.

My home is within two blocks of the 11-acre commercial tract on the north end being promoted by the Town Commission. What the commissioners want to do to my neighborhood upsets me, and it is personal. I don’t appreciate the commissioners deciding what is best for me, any more than I appreciate having the federal government telling me what to do, where I can go and which Wall Street gambling losses I must pay for.

I do not trust the judgment of Commissioner Brenner, whose tourism experience includes the management board of an Atlantic City gambling casino that went bankrupt with Brenner serving on the casino board for approximately a decade.

 

The hotel

The expansion of tourism on the north end is supported by Commissioner Brenner. Why is there so much commotion about developer interest in the north end? No matter that hotel developers met with the town’s planning staff as far back as eight months concerning a hotel located at the north end bank building location.

I have heard guesstimates of a three-story hotel over parking over retail and lobby. The Planning and Zoning Board appears to support five or six stories. I have spoken to hotel developers who say that anything less than 150 rooms is financially impracticable in that location. I have even heard about a 20-room eco-inn with expanded use of the bayou. It’s anybody’s guess. Would you invest millions in a 20-room B&B at Whitney Beach Plaza?

I want to reiterate that Commissioner Brenner publicly states that retail does not work at Whitney Beach Plaza. I agree. Since Commissioner Brenner has not publicly stated what he does see working at that location, and since Commissioner Brenner has publicly stated that he will support tourism at the north end, it is up to the voter to connect the dots, if there are any.

The voter should be aware that there are prevailing industry formulas pertaining to building hotels that include location, target patrons, traffic, land and construction costs (hurricane zone), access to local attractions, labor and operating costs. The developers I spoke with insisted that 150 rooms are essential for them to actively promote a hotel on the north end of Longboat Key. There are 250 rooms available to any developer who wants to build a tourism facility on Longboat on any commercially zoned property.

 

Gambling

Perhaps one of the most attractive aspects of the Town Commission’s proposed 11-acre development tract at the north end is its size. If a developer did decide to build a hotel, and if the Florida legislature decides to decouple card room and slot machine casinos from having to have live dog racing, substituting televised racing instead, then having lots of parking adjacent to a large beach might be a winning combination.

Do you know that Florida is already considered to be the fourth largest gambling state? Anyone who is interested in the future of gambling in Florida might want to Google the “Destination Resort Act” presently working its way through the state legislature. There are several provisions in the bill that might apply to our community. If the current legislation fails to pass, there will certainly be an unending stream of casino industry sponsored bills to follow.

 

Unbridled tourism

Anyone passing the Beach House Restaurant on Bradenton Beach in the past few days will notice that Ed Chiles has recently tripled the parking spaces. As if there wasn’t already too much traffic congestion in that community’s streets, it just got a lot worse.

And who profits and who loses from commercial tourism expansion? On Longboat Key most income is “unearned” from dividends and interest and pensions including Social Security. Any sort of tourism facility will generate few if any jobs for local residents. The taxpayers derive a small tax income from room taxes and sales taxes. However, the taxpayers also have to pay for added utility capacity as well as additional public safety staff. Research studies conducted by two universities show that casinos raise crime rates by 12.7 percent. We already have enough crime on the island.

The sociological impact of greatly expanded commercial tourism on the north end of Longboat Key is immeasurable, in terms of real estate values and forced lifestyle change resulting from inappropriate development. Property owners north and south of Broadway along the bayous may have to accept a far different ambiance with much more noise and light pollution. Would you purchase a home next to a hotel or the Beach House Restaurant?

Be careful what you wish for. You just might get Bradenton Beach at the end of Broadway. If Mr. Brenner believes that retail does not work at Whitney Beach Plaza, what does he have in mind as an alternative?

Finally, what the island does not need is another two years of grand proposals by the commission for expanded tourism and business on Longboat Key, with no results. NYU finance Professor Edward Altman warns “there is too much emphasis on…getting on with business rather than whether it (business) is going to work.”

The commissioners’ proposed 11-acre commercial development tract may make things worse, not better. I am concerned when politicians with no particular expertise start fiddling with the marketplace.

We need people on the commission who are more interested in the residents instead of coddling the business community. We need to send a message to the clique.

If any part of the island’s economy is improving, it is the construction of numerous high-end homes. That is the direction we need to embrace.

We need a change and we need it now.

 

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1 Response for “A one-issue election”

  1. gene jaleski says:

    I stand corrected on the parking at the Beach House. The property south of the restaurant has always been parking it seems. I had never seen any cars there before. The density of cars appeared to be greater than the triangular lot on the north side of the restaurant. As I have stated many times, I regard Ed Chiles as a talented restaurant owner who has created tasteful and appropriate dining experiences on both islands. The Mar Vista is delightful and a great success. I frequently recommend all his restaurants.

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