The power of community in marketing
Previously I have written several articles encouraging the town government to refocus its efforts away from commercial tourism development and toward improved and increased marketing of what is obviously an already popular exclusive seasonal community. For certain politicians to suggest that we are not like The Hamptons, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard or Cape Cod is both unproductive and denying the obvious.
Longboat Key has become, over three decades, a winter playground for the well to do from many countries. One has only to observe the current mega-home building trend on the island to realize the momentum toward affluence is slowly gobbling up more and more prime properties. To me this is a good thing. One thing is for sure, homeowners on Longboat Key did not come here on a tourist bus.
The same politicians who preach commercial tourism as the salvation for aging properties on our island, fail to look at the average age of structures in all the other exclusive communities I referenced earlier in the article.
We recently were visited by an Indian couple from Ft. Lauderdale. The husband is a Motorola executive. We had them stay in one of the “Old Florida” motels on the north end. We kayaked around Sister’s Keys and along the northern gulf-side beach. We dined in local restaurants and we went to our beautiful beaches. We partied with local friends and neighbors. They loved Longboat Key. They are exactly the sort of 40-year-old couple we want to attract to our community.
Our friends from Ft. Lauderdale saw Longboat Key differently than someone who stays at the Key Club. Our friends experienced a warm, friendly, inviting Longboat Key. Longboat Key does not have a social/cultural center where visitors can meet and mingle with residents. For the most part Longboat Key is made up of self-contained and gated condominiums. Additionally the town never opened our 12 miles of breathtaking beaches to its own residents, much less any perspective homebuyers. The Key Club doesn’t have any beachfront and relies on the private owners of the Inn to offer any sort of beach experience to newcomers to our island community.
Being a beach community that offers little to no access to the beach is perhaps the greatest obstacle to attracting people to our island. The Town Commission needs to find a way of offering visitors a greater beach experience. When I was on the commission I spoke to numerous visitors about their experience on our island. A prevalent comment was that Longboat Key appeared to be unfriendly with its gates and lack of a city center. Visitors wanted greater access to what the community has to offer. Our friends from Ft. Lauderdale saw a far different and more inviting community than the average visitor. We may want to look at how we can improve our image.
Presently the Town Commission is spending most of its time eliminating land use protections while doing absolutely nothing to encourage tasteful development. One wonders if they have any foresight whatsoever. Check out my blog at http://lbk-folk.blogspot.com/ — of the two tourist facilities pictured, which do you believe is the most attractive to a profit-driven developer? Which would be more desirable for our community? Which one would you stay in?
Meanwhile our beaches are a mess. There does not appear to be any plan in place to protect property from storms. There is little money in the beach fund to repair storm-damaged segments of our coastline. The town manager has informed north-end waterfront property owners that they can “eat cake” as Marie Antoinette said. This is a disheartening message to north-end taxpayers after paying taxes for decades into a beach fund that took care of certain properties, while apparently now abandoning other property owners. The town has been caught with its pants down. Did it not occur to the town government that there might be a storm or hurricane over the summer?
There are many things that only the town can do effectively to market our community. Having distressed beaches, threatened waterfront properties, fluctuating land use policies, community strife, the Colony, the stalled Key Club litigation and an appointed town government only harm our image to the outside world of possible future residents.
Longboat Key has spent more money on our beaches over the past three decades than any other part of our infrastructure. Yet our beaches have restricted access both for most residents and visitors. We are a beach community with a virtually unavailable beach.
I have one last plea. Not a very expensive plea. Can’t the town do what was done at the new CVS site and hide the ghastly gas station and abandoned Market at the north end? After all, we are talking about a few shrubs and trees.