Special Density Referendum

Guest Columnist

Should Longboat Key (LBK) residents vote to approve increasing by 300 the permissible number of tourism units at the Longboat Key Club?


Tourism advocates’ argument for additional tourism units on LBK.

Beginning with their promotion of the 2008 Referendum regarding recovering 250 “lost” tourism units, tourism advocates have focused on two main arguments.

1) Many, if not a majority, of LBK’s residents first visited LBK as tourists before buying their homes on the island.  Hence, if the “lost tourism units” are not recovered, demand for LBK homes will decrease (i.e., there will be a shortage of potential home buyers), current homeowners will have difficulty selling their homes, and housing prices will decline.

2) Tourists are critical to the survival of LBK’s businesses.  Therefore, if the “lost tourism units” are not recovered, more businesses will lose money and will go out of business.  Eventually, LBK residents would have to go off the island for most of the products and services they require.

Tourist advocates were successful in convincing a solid majority of residents to vote for this Referendum in large part because of the intensity of their public relations campaign and the lack of any organized opposition.

Today, seven years later, we have an opportunity to evaluate the validity of the tourist advocates’ rather dire predictions about LBK’s housing market and its commercial base.  We know that not a single tourist unit of the 250 additional units approved has been built.  Moreover, the Colony’s 237 rooms have been closed for four years and the Hilton’s 102 units were closed this year.  As such, if the tourist advocates’ arguments have any validity, both LBK’s housing market and its commercial base should be devastated by now.

However, we know the exact opposite to be true.  Instead of not being able to find buyers for LBK properties, realtors are complaining about the shortage of residential properties for sale.  Similarly, businesses on LBK are reporting that they are having one of their best years ever. Clearly, the island’s housing market and its commercial base are NOT heavily dependent on increasing the number of tourist units on LBK.


The traffic issue

Although the housing market and the island’s businesses prospered this season, residents experienced the worst traffic congestion to date.  Occupancy rates at tourist facilities on LBK and in surrounding areas were extremely high, and it became difficult to drive on and off the island in both directions during this past tourist season.

Moreover, given the number of new tourism and residential units already approved for construction on LBK and in neighboring communities, the traffic situation will get worse in the future.  At this point, no one seems to have developed a realistic solution to this developing crisis.

The proposed hotel at the Longboat Key Club would make this situation even worse by putting approximately another 600 tourists and 150 service workers on Gulf of Mexico Drive during peak season.  This would diminish the ambiance of the island, restrict residents’ access to Sarasota’s amenities (e.g., restaurants, shops, and theaters), and depress LBK’s residential housing prices.


The changing nature of the Longboat Key Club

The Longboat Key Club (LBKC) is very different than a traditional country club.  The club’s members do not have an equity position and they do not have a vote in how the club is operated.  However, a substantial majority of the Club’s income is derived from its members, most of who live on the island.  As such, the LBKC is currently more of a LBK residents’ club than it is a tourist resort, and management needs to be sensitive to the views of it members.

However, this situation would change dramatically if the voters approve the proposed 300 tourist units at the LBKC.  Should this happen, tourists with access to the LBKC’s amenities would include:  1) those staying at the LBKC’s current tourism facilities, 2) those staying at the new hotel to be built at the site of the old Hilton Hotel (almost 200 rooms), and 3) those staying at the new LBKC hotel (almost 300 rooms).  LBKC members would be sharing the Club’s amenities (e.g., restaurant reservation times, golf tee times, tennis court times, etc.) with a very large group tourists.  This would be a great deal for the tourists since, unlike LBK residents, they would not be required to pay a non-refundable membership initiation fee of between $20,000 and $50,000 along with annual dues of between $2,900 and $11,950 (depending on what type of membership they selected) to gain access to the LBKC’s amenities.  However, this doesn’t seem quite fair to LBK residents who have already joined the Club.

Businesses make their decisions based on what they calculate will give them the greatest return on their investment.  They then attempt to convince the public that what they decided is also best for the public.  As such, it is important for each resident to make his/her own independent assessment of whether what these businesses are proposing is best for them.

John O. Summers, Professor Emeritus of Marketing, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indian.  Currently a resident of Longboat Key







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