Siesta Key business owners not giving up on permanent No. 1 beach signs

County officials soon are expected to discuss how much longer the existing No. 1 beach signs will stay up. File photo

They won’t take “No” for an answer.

Siesta Village business owners are determined to find some way to maintain permanent signage about Siesta Public Beach’s No. 1 ranking in 2011 on Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman’s list of the top U.S. beaches.

The Florida Department of Transportation recently put the kibosh on the county’s proposal for a beach ball design for the sign, but Siesta Key Village Association President Russell Matthes told members during their monthly meeting Sept. 4, “We’re not going to let up” in the quest for a solution.

If he and his fellow SKVA members succeed, they’ll buck the trend of past No. 1 beaches, according to a spot check this week by The Sarasota News Leader.

From Long Island to Hawaii, the News Leader found two past No. 1 beaches that had signage denoting the distinction. One is the North Beach at Fort DeSoto Park in St. Petersburg, which won the honor in 2005.

David Downing, deputy director of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, told the News Leader the sign resembles a park sign at the entrance to the beach.

The “Siesta Beach No. 1 Beach USA” signs county employees erected in late August 2011 on Sarasota County Area Transit signs in close proximity to Siesta Key also resemble park signs.

Downing said the sign at Fort DeSoto was allowed because that beach is county property.

He was uncertain whether any of Florida’s other past No. 1 beaches had signage marking the honor, he said, because they are on state property.

Pete Krulder, manager of five of the state parks in the St. Petersburg area, said Caladesi Island State Park, which was No. 1 in 2008, “has nothing inside the park” marking its honor.

However, he said the nearby city of Dunedin does have some signage calling itself “home of the No. 1 beach.” The communications director for the city did not respond to calls from the News Leader by deadline.

In North Carolina, on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, no sign touts the Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach’s No. 1 ranking in 2007.

“We do not put very many signs up at all, said Cyndy Holda, public affairs specialist for the Outer Banks Group of the seashore.

“The resource speaks for itself,” she added. “Sometimes the least amount of signage is the best at the beach. … It’s sort of a Park Service philosophy.”

Mary A. Daubert, public information officer for the Kauai Visitors Bureau, told the News Leader, “We don’t put up signage,” though she makes note in signatures and marketing material that the island’s Hanalei Bay beach was No. 1 in 2009.

Beyond that, she said, the only thing her office did was issue a press release about the honor when Leatherman bestowed it.

“It’s a short-term kind of thing. That’s why we don’t create signage for it,” Daubert said, though she was sympathetic to the SKVA quest: “That’s not a bad idea.”

The past No. 1 beach where signage would be least expected under any circumstances seems to be Coopers Beach in Southampton, N.Y., on Long Island. That beach earned the top honor in 2010.

Kristen Matejka, director of marketing and communications for the Long Island Convention & Visitors Bureau, pointed out, “We’re in a unique situation.”

The Hamptons, where Coopers Beach is situated, she said, is “an exclusive community … to put it mildly. … Residents out there are a little more private …”

Like Daubert on Kauai, Matejka said her office uses the No. 1 ranking in its marketing efforts.

The CVB did announce the ranking on an electronic billboard in Times Square when Leatherman issued his list that year, she added.

“But, no, we didn’t put up a permanent sign,” she said. “The constituency probably would howl,” she pointed out, because Coopers Beach isn’t even a public beach, though visitors can use it — if they can find one of the few parking spaces available and if they can afford the $45 fee for the privilege.

Still, Matejka said, “The businesses definitely would like the exposure” of a permanent sign.

She added, “I don’t think it’s a bad idea to keep something up.”

And that’s exactly what Matthes wants to do.

“There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t see people taking pictures at one of those [No. 1 Beach] signs,” Matthes said. “It’s amazing.”

In the meantime, when Matthes asked whether anyone at the SKVA meeting knew how much longer the brown county signs were going to stay up, Mark Smith, chairman of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, replied, “Until [county employees] take ’em down.”

When the News Leader posed Matthes’ question to Rob Lewis, director of planning and community services for Sarasota County, he replied by email, “I will be discussing [this] with the County Administrator and then with the Commission. Please check back with me next week.”