Siesta Key business owners dealing with repercussions of lingering red tide bloom

At Chamber board member’s suggestion, Chamber to include link on its website to live beach web cam, so people can see for themselves what conditions are like

Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce directors and members gather in the coffee bar at the Stickney Point Road Daiquiri Deck for their quarterly meeting on Aug. 15. Rachel Hackney photo

As Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce members this week aired frustrations about widespread negative publicity regarding red tide, Director Joye Argo had a suggestion.

Perhaps Chamber Executive Director Ann Frescura could figure out a way to put a link on the Chamber’s homepage to the “beach cam” provided by https://www.earthcam.com/usa/florida/sarasota/?cam=siestabeach.

Argo, managing member of Studio F Digital Marketing LLC, was responding to frustrations voiced by a past Chamber chair, Alana Tomasso, who manages Midnight Cove Realty on the Key.

Frescura agreed that the idea was a good one. After the meeting, she told the Sarasota News Leader she would work on it. In a follow-up email late on Aug. 15, Frescura wrote, “I have asked our tech guy to post the link to our website.”

During the Aug. 15 quarterly meeting for members — which the Chamber board hosted at the Daiquiri Deck on Stickney Point Road — Tomasso talked of renters upset about the red tide telling her and her staff “we’re awful people,” because the refund policy does not allow staff to give them their money back after they have stayed on the property.

The Guest Rental Agreement and Rental Policies for Midnight Cove Realty — which the News Leader found online — says, “All cancellations require written notice. For reservations of less than 3 weeks there is a $95 fee for cancellations made outside of 60 days from check-in. No refunds for cancellations/alterations made less than 60 days from arrival.”

Alana Tomasso. Photo from her LinkedIn account

“We’re getting beat up every day,” Tomasso said during the Chamber meeting. Moreover, she added, “People coming in December want to cancel.”

She asked Frescura what type of feedback the Chamber staff has had from other businesses.

“We at the Chamber don’t step into the middle of anyone’s policy,” Frescura replied. Chamber staff tells people complaining about specific properties that they will have to deal with management at those properties, Frescura pointed out.

The staff also offers examples of activities people can pursue in the area, she noted, other than going to the beach.

‘A unified effort’

Early during the Aug. 15 meeting, Frescura told the group of about 18 attendees, “I know that red tide has been affecting everyone.” The Chamber, she continued, has “been fielding a lot of phone calls, questions, concerns …”

On Monday, she said, she participated in a conference call with Virginia Haley, president of Sarasota County’s tourism office, Visit Sarasota County. As part of “a unified front,” Frescura explained, the Siesta Chamber has posted links on its website homepage, directing visitors to Mote Marine Laboratory’s Beach Conditions Report, which covers a swath of the Southwest Florida shoreline — from the beach on Caladesi Island to South Marco Beach.

Ann Frescura. Image courtesy Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce

Visit Sarasota County also has begun regular surveys to determine the effects of red tide on businesses, Frescura noted.

On its website, Visit Sarasota County says it has begun “weekly monitoring of our tourism industry to determine the impacts of the red tide on your business. These surveys will be sent to you every Wednesday during the duration of this occurrence.” The results of the first survey were for the week of Aug. 1 to Aug. 7, the website pointed out. Those results showed the following:

  • 90% of respondents were less than 3 miles from the beach or Sarasota Bay.
  • “90% lost business”
  • “The average loss [that] week compared to same week last year was 5%”

The Siesta Chamber website also has a link to a fact sheet and other information about red tide provided on the website of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

“That’s our effort,” Frescura said: “to just put that [information] there in addition to fielding the phone calls …”

(Visit Sarasota County offers links on its website, too, to a variety of resources related to red tide, including Mote’s Beach Conditions Report.)

A trying time

Tomasso brought up her concerns at the conclusion of the regular business on the Aug. 15 agenda.

Argo first suggested that property managers encourage their clients to look at the beach web cam, which features the day’s date and a digital clock imposed on the image of Siesta Beach.

Joey Argo. Rachel Hackney photo

When people read the recent Mote beach conditions reports, Argo continued, they see words such as “Heavy” and “Intense” describing fish kill levels and respiratory conditions on Siesta Public Beach. “People are afraid,” she added.

Yet, she goes out to the beach herself most mornings to check on the actual conditions, she pointed out, indicating she has found far better circumstances than those people might expect after reading the Mote data.

On the beach web cam, Argo added, “You can see people are sitting at the water. They’re putting up umbrellas.”

Tomasso responded that her staff has been posting photos on the Midnight Cove homepage each day, showing actual conditions in an effort to dispute news media accounts that have left people with the impression that the situation on Siesta Key is dire.

Staff is telling people, “‘This is our beach … our current situation,’” Tomasso said.

Gov. Rick Scott’s State of Emergency regarding red tide — issued on Aug. 13 — “was a killer,” Argo pointed out. (See the related story in this issue.)

“It is an emergency [situation],” Argo acknowledged, but the beach is fine on many days. “At least it is today.”

In the email she sent to the News Leade ron the evening of Aug. 15, Frescura wrote that the Chamber staff would be sending out an email blast the following day to all members, with references to the web cam, visitbeaches.org and the FWC information. “We will also encourage members to share/post positive images on their websites and social media,” she wrote.

This is one of the new banners on the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce homepage. Image courtesy Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce

Yet another key piece of information she will be passing along to members is that when Gov. Scott declared the State of Emergency, he activated the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program. Frescura shared with the News Leaderan email she had received late on Aug. 15 from Robert Lewis, director of governmental relations for Sarasota County. That provided details about the loan program, noting that it is “available to small business owners located in designated disaster areas that experienced physical and/or economic damage as a result of [red tide and the Lake Okeechobee discharge/algae blooms issue]. Small business owners can qualify for up to $50,000 per eligible business,” Lewis added. This is the link to details about that program: http://www.floridadisasterloan.org/.

Other perspectives

Before the meeting started, Michael Shay, manager of the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp. — which oversees upkeep of Siesta Village — remarked that he has been checking the wind direction each day before he heads out of his island home. That morning, he pointed out, the weather report said the wind was out of the east. That meant the stench associated with fish killed by red tide was barely noticeable on the island, he added.

During the meeting, Tomasso also expressed worry about news stories saying the current red tide bloom could last two years. (Mote Marine first documented it in November 2017, Mote has reported.)

CB’s Saltwater Outfitters’ main store is just east of a smaller CB’s shop and the Daiquiri Deck, which share a site on Stickney Point Road. Rachel Hackney photo

Kay Kouvatsos, co-owner of Village Café in Siesta Village, responded that a customer in the restaurant the previous day told her his parents first brought him to Siesta Key in 1954, when he was a young child. A red tide bloom during that period, he said, lasted about a year-and-a-half.

Some blooms produce worse conditions than others, one Chamber member pointed out.

After the meeting ended, the News Leader asked Mason Tush — whose family owns CB’s Saltwater Outfitters, next to the Daiquiri Deck on Stickney Point Road — how his business was faring. CB’s provides boat rentals and chartered fishing tours, among other services.

Although business is down from the previous two Augusts, Tush said, “I think we’re all just lucky that it’s August. … It’s not March or April,” he added, referring to the height of tourist season.

He did point out that August was a busier month for CB’s in 2016 and 2017 than it had been in previous years. Still, Tush said, he was not complaining. The slower business level has allowed him to catch up on things he needed to do and had not had time to tackle.

1 thought on “Siesta Key business owners dealing with repercussions of lingering red tide bloom

  1. All that concern about the red tide from the Chamber, but not a single word about its causes, or what efforts might be used to minimize or reduce factors that are believed to contribute e.g. water pollution, human sewage , agricultural run-off, and higher water temperatures due to climate change. The greater the population density (Benderson at 41 and Stickney Point Road and the “Just ask Gary Hotel”) the greater the contribution to the causes of the red tide.

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