Buses to bring Crystal Classic visitors through Siesta Village

Sponsors still are welcome for the 2012 Crystal Classic on Siesta Key Public Beach. The event is expected to bring 40,000 people to Sarasota County, organizers say. Anyone interested in becoming a sponsor may call the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce at 349-3800 or email info@crystalsand.org. Photo by Norman Schimmel

A co-chairwoman of the 2012 Siesta Key Crystal Classic Master Sandsculpting Competition had good news this week for Siesta Village businesses.

Plans call for buses transporting people to the event to use the north bridge and travel through Siesta Village on their way to Siesta Public Beach, where internationally known sandsculptors will be crafting massive creations out of Siesta’s 99% quartz sand.

If all goes as planned, said Maria Bankemper, general manger and vice president of the Best Western Plus-Siesta Key hotel on South Tamiami Trail, the buses will stop near The Hub Baja Grill to let off passengers.

The Hub is located at the four-way-stop intersection of Canal Road/Avenida Messina and Ocean Boulevard in the Village.

Bankemper made her remarks during the Sept. 4 regular meeting of the Siesta Key Village Association, held at the Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar.

“This is going to be amazing,” SKVA President Russell Matthes said, “because we’re going to have people at our front doors for lunch and dinner as a result of this.”

Matthes also pointed out that November is normally a slow time of year for Siesta Village businesses, which makes the timing of the Crystal Classic all that more valuable to merchants and restaurateurs.

Organizers say they expect 40,000 people to attend the third Crystal Classic, scheduled for Nov. 8-12. Last year, statistics showed the event had an economic impact on Sarasota County of about $2 million, Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce members have pointed out.

(Cheryl Gaddie of CG Designs, past chairwoman of the Siesta Chamber, is the other co-chairwoman of the 2012 Crystal Classic.)

Bankemper noted that Phillippi Estate Park, located at 5500 S. Tamiami Trail, again would serve as the location for visitors to park their cars and catch buses to Siesta Key for the Crystal Classic.

Last year, she said, the organizers offered buses on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the event. Friday was added, she said, because it was Veterans Day. While about 800 cars were counted at the park each of the weekend days, she said, there was “virtually nothing on Friday.”

This year, the buses will operate only on Saturday and Sunday. However, by using a mix of 55-passenger and 30-passenger buses, she said, the seating capacity should be doubled.

She also pointed out that the buses running to the event both in 2010 and 2011 used just the Stickney Point Bridge approach. In developing plans for this year, she said, the organizers had learned that “the north bridge … has been pretty devoid of traffic” the previous two years during the event.

That was why the decision had been made to utilize the north bridge to bring people onto the key this year, she said, with buses set to leave the island by the Stickney Point Road bridge.

Plans also call for the buses to drop off and pick up people at the Sarasota County Area Transit stop on the west side of Beach Road at the public beach, Bankemper added. “This way, [passengers] can just walk straight to the beach,” she said.

Last year, the 45-foot buses went into the parking lot at the beach to turn around, but the lot was “too congested. We were held up quite often, trying to get back to Phillippi Estate Park.”

Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Chris McGregor voiced concerns about the plan for using the SCAT stop. “It’s going to be a huge traffic nightmare,” he said, with “a lot of traffic backing up on Beach Road” behind the buses.

McGregor said he thought the arrangements worked well last year, with Sheriff’s deputies using cones to block off one of the two entry lanes to the public beach parking lot so buses could use it.

Bankemper replied, “That’s just not an option anymore for us.” The space was so tight for the bus drivers, she said, “I’m impressed that those guys never hit anything, honestly.”

When McGregor asked whether the organizers could have the buses stop in the 700 block of Beach Road, in the area near the picnic tables, Bankemper told him that organizers heard complaints when they used that as the drop-off area for the first Crystal Classic.

“You have to remember who our demographic is,” she told McGregor. “Although we do have families, we have a lot of retired folks who are having to trudge all the way out [to the event site on the beach] and all the way back, and potentially have to stand and wait [for a bus],” she added; the buses do not operate on a regular schedule.

Still, she said, “We can figure out a way to make it work.”

Maura Thompson of Jonny’s Free Beach Rides offered the help of that firm in transporting people from the picnic-table area to a spot closer to the beach, if the organizers decided ultimately on that option.

McGregor also said he would pass along Bankemper’s information to the traffic personnel with the Sheriff’s Office, “and let those guys look at [the plans].”

Bankemper said she felt visitors would face fewer delays getting to the event if they were able to get on and off the buses on Beach Road and that there would be “less potential of an accident.”

“We’ll try to figure it out,” McGregor told her.

Daily ticket sales

In a related matter, McGregor asked when the organizers were planning their last ticket sales on the days of the Crystal Classic.

Kevin Cooper, executive director of the Siesta Chamber, said no tickets would be sold after 4:30 p.m., with the event ending at 5 p.m. each day. Based on the previous years’ experiences, he said, it would take until 5:30 p.m. for the last of the vendors to close their booths on the beach.

The organizers also wanted to be careful not to prolong the period of time Sarasota County Parks and Recreation staff had to remain on the beach at the conclusion of each day’s activities.

Bankemper said the last bus would depart from the beach at 5:30 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 10 and 11.

When Matthes asked why the Crystal Classic didn’t extend beyond 5 p.m. on event days, Bankemper told him, “Sunset is not too far after that” in November.