(Editor’s note: This article was updated late in the morning of Nov. 2 to reflect new information from Sarasota County about the issue of communication from the City of Sarasota regarding the use of Ted Sperling Park as a staging area for the long-term Lido Renourishment Project.)
Speculation swirling around future of Bank of American property; county staff says Sand Dollar Key not in proposed Big Pass dredging area, but new questions arise; a new Sheriff’s Office substation leader has been named; the Condo Council announces its annual Holiday Lighting Contest; Duo Nova to perform at Siesta Chapel; Chamber extends gratitude to St. Boniface; and Siesta property owners protest Tourist Development Tax ordinance change
With the Bank of America branch on Stickney Point Road having closed on Oct. 16, The Sarasota News Leader has learned that the rumor mill already is in full swing, speculating on what will happen to the property.
First, in regard to the bank, Matthew Daily, a Bank of America spokesman based in Atlanta, told the News Leader in an Oct. 31 telephone interview that notifications went out to customers in early July, letting them know the closing was coming.
Branches remain open at 3303 S. Tamiami Trail — less than a mile away — and at 935 N. Beneva Road, which is about 2 miles away, Daily pointed out.
“We’re always looking at our network to try to make sure it fits our clients’ needs and habits,” he explained. With more and more people opting to handle regular transactions online or via a mobile app, he said, far fewer customers come to a branch these days to cash a check, for example.
“We find that the branches are increasingly being used for more substantial things,” Daily continued, such as retirement planning, small business assistance and loan applications. Therefore, he said, actual branches will remain a part of the bank’s operations.
A graphic Daily provided the News Leader showed that in the third quarter of this year, Bank of America recorded 1.4 billion mobile log-ins, an increase of 17% year-over-year, and 137 million bill payments online. Additionally, 77% of total deposits were made via a mobile device or ATM.
As for the future of the property on Stickney Point Road: Daily said that whenever the bank closes a branch on a parcel it owns, the bank typically markets the property for sale. A third party handles those transactions, he added, noting that he had no information about Bank of America’s specific plans for the Stickney Road site.
The Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office records show that the parcel comprises 25,350 square feet; the building was constructed in 1974. This year, the market value of the land was put at $860,100. The total taxable value of the property is $1,538,400. The zoning is Commercial Intensive.
People familiar with the site know that it sits between two storefronts owned by CB’s Saltwater Outfitters, with a Daiquiri Deck restaurant built over the smaller one of those, to the west.
In fact, that smaller one used to be a BP station. After it was closed, the Tush family that owns CB’s bought the property, concluding the transaction in June 2011. Early on, Mason Tush — whose parents, Aledia and Lee, bought CB’s in 1976 — was considering whether to open another service station there, as none existed on the south end of the Key.
Later, the family transformed the building into a second shop.
Just to the south of the Bank of America property, on Old Stickney Point Road, is the site of the former Fandango Café, which is owned by Dr. Gary Kompothecras, known widely for his 1-800-ASK-GARY medical and referral service. The deteriorated café structure is adjacent to a storage business Kompothecras also owns, and that is next to Clayton’s Siesta Grille.
In April, Clayton Thompson, owner of the restaurant, appeared before the County Commission to argue for a change in the Siesta Key Overlay District zoning code, so Kompothecras would have more flexibility to construct a boutique hotel on the sites of the former Fandango’s and the storage business. Commission Chair Nancy Detert asked Thompson whether he would be willing to sell his restaurant to Kompothecras, to be torn down, if Kompothecras let him operate a restaurant within the hotel — if the hotel ultimately becomes a reality.
Detert suggested that combining three parcels would give Kompothecras a lot more room to construct the hotel.
“That clearly is an option,” Thomson responded about a potential sale, but it was not his desire, he added. Then he turned to Kompothecras in the audience and joked, “Gary, if you’ve got a really big check … come talk to me after the meeting.”
That is not part of the proposed dredging area
Regular readers will recall that research undertaken by leaders of the Siesta Key Association (SKA) this summer found county property that appeared to be within an area of Big Sarasota Pass targeted for sand removal for the long-term Lido Renourishment Project.
SKA Vice President shared with the News Leader an Oct. 25 email that she received from Matt Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, in response to the SKA’s question about that property, known as Sand Dollar Key.
Osterhoudt wrote that it “is located outside of the proposed [dredging] project limits.”
However, Luckner pointed out to the News Leader, the SKA has more questions that county staff has yet to answer.
For example, she continued, based on information the SKA has received, the City of Sarasota has yet to submit a request to Sarasota County for use of the county’s Ted Sperling Park — on the southernmost portion of Lido Key — as a staging area for the renourishment project. Along with the placement of new sand, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) intends to construct two groins on South Lido to try to keep sand in place between renourishment initiatives, which it has estimated will be necessary every five years. The USACE and the city were co-applicants for the permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) for the dredging of sand from Big Pass for Lido.
Luckner noted that the County Commission did send a letter to FDEP, during the permitting process, stating that the county expected a formal request from the city for use of county property before FDEP issued the permit.
Dated Aug. 24, 2016 and signed by then-Commission Chair Alan Maio, the letter was sent to Gregory Garis, who was overseeing the Lido permit application process for FDEP.
Maio noted that FDEP had received materials from the USACE on Aug. 1, 2016, in response to the department’s second Request for Additional Information (RAI2) about the project, as proposed.
With that USACE submittal, Maio wrote, the issue of the staging area had come to the county’s attention. “Neither the [USACE] nor the City of Sarasota has contacted the County to seek authorization for this use,” Maio continued. “It is the County’s expectation that the FDEP evaluation of the materials submitted on August 1, 2016 will include a requirement for the [USACE] or City of Sarasota to obtain authorization for such use prior to moving the submittal for the Joint Coastal Permit forward in the review process,” Maio added.
“Both the construction staging area and project design, including groin structures north of Ted Sperling Park at South Lido Beach, pose possible near and long-term impacts to the operations, maintenance, and management of the park,” Maio pointed out.
Catherine Luckner and her husband, Robert, a member of the SKA’s Environmental Committee, have spent a considerable amount of time reviewing documents in the FDEP folder on the Lido project since the USACE submitted the application for the permit in March 2015. FDEP formally issued the permit on June 18.
In response to a News Leader question to county staff, Media Relations Specialist Brianne Grant wrote in an email, “As … Nov. 1, 2018, Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources has not received any requests (formal or informal) from the City of Sarasota for the use of Ted Sperling at South Lido Beach (County-owned property) for staging equipment for the upcoming coastal enhancement.”
Last week, Catherine Luckner also provided the News Leader a copy of a USACE graphic submitted to FDEP in 2016, as part of the RAI2 exchanges with FDEP. It shows the 500-foot boundary around the proposed sand borrow areas and the parcels within that boundary. All owners of those parcels had to be notified of the USACE project plans, according to state law, she pointed out. Yet, when she and Robert Luckner researched the list of recipients of the notifications, the county was not among them — in spite of the fact that Ted Sperling Park clearly is within the notification area.
Catherine Luckner wrote Osterhoudt on Oct. 25 email that that information might be “of interest for you.”
The new sergeant on the Key
Lt. Jason Mruczek, former leader of the Sheriff’s Office Substation on the Key, let the News Leader know this week that the new leader is Sgt. Paul Cernansky.
In a brief telephone interview with the News Leader on Oct. 31, Deputy Chris McGregor called Cernansky “a really great guy.”
Since the Siesta Key Association postponed its meeting this month from Nov. 1 to Nov. 8, McGregor added, he plans to be present on Nov. 8 to introduce Cernansky to members.
Condo Council Lighting Contest announced
In keeping with the Siesta Key Condominium Council’s Mission Statement, “the Traditional Holiday Lighting Contest will be held again this year,” the council has announced. Judging will be held on Wednesday Dec. 12, at 6 p.m., a formal notice said.
“Condo Boards support Siesta Key with creative and attractive lighting every season,” the notice added. “Please help with the continued beautification of the Key,” it said.
“Another factor this year is the local economy,” the notice continued. “The local merchants are hurting from the red tide and need our support.”
As usual, the contest categories are as follows:
- Category I — 101 or more units.
- Category II — 51 to 100 units.
- Category III — 50 or fewer units.
First-, second- and third-place winners will be named after the judging.
Hilla Blatt, chair of the Condo Council Lighting Committee, is reminding participants that they must register for the contest. Only condominium associations in good standing with the council (including having their dues up-to-date) are eligible. Applications must be submitted by 5 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 7, the form says.
Duo Nona performance to be conducted at Siesta Chapel
The Siesta Key Chapel Arts Series will present Duo Nona (Nadine Trudel on cello and Gil Katz on double bass) in concert on Sunday, Nov. 11, at 4 p.m., at Siesta Key Chapel Presbyterian Church.
“Duo Nona is an adventurous and engaging ensemble that puts a fascinating twist on the rarely heard combination of cello and bass,” a news release says. The performers “introduce new compositions and arrangements infused with an eclectic mix of classical, jazz, Latin, folk and rock,” the release adds.
Trudel performs with the Sarasota Orchestra and is the principal cellist of the Sarasota Opera, the release notes. Katz is the principal double bass with the Sarasota Opera and the Utah Festival Opera.
Katz was commissioned by the San Jose Chamber Orchestra to write a concerto for cello and bass, which Duo Non premiered for the opening of that orchestra’s 20th anniversary season, the release points out.
For the Siesta Chapel performance, Duo Nona will offer a diverse program featuring music by Debussy, Couperin and Ginastera, as well as a few pieces of its own, the release explains.
A donation of $10 is requested per person at the door. Siesta Key Chapel is located at 4615 Gleason Ave. on Siesta Key. For more information, call 349-1166 or visit www.siestakeychapel.org.
Gratitude for St. Boniface’s help
On Oct. 26, the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce offered thanks to St. Boniface Episcopal Church in an email blast.
The church provided help to working families whose incomes were affected by red tide, the email pointed out. “The need was real because St. Boniface distributed $7,500 in aid to folks who contacted [church leaders],” the email said.
Unfortunately, the church exhausted its funds for that purpose, the email added, so it had to end the aid.
“Thank you, St. Boniface, for supporting the Siesta Key community!” the email concluded.
Anger over TDT revenue reset
During the County Commission public hearing last week regarding a change in the Tourist Development Tax ordinance to provide funding for repairs to Ed Smith Stadium, two Siesta Key property owners were among the 11 speakers who addressed the board.
Visit Sarasota County (VSC), the county’s tourism agency, had encouraged its members to fight a county staff proposal to divert money from VSC’s promotional budget in the 2020 and 2022 fiscal years to cover the work at the stadium.
One of the Siesta speakers was Paul Parr, who fought back tears as he explained that he was about to lose his rental business on the Key because of red tide’s detrimental effects on tourism.
During the commissioners’ discussion before their vote, Commissioner Alan Maio — who represents Siesta Key as part of his District 4 territory — said at one point, “I flinch now when I see a phone [call] coming from somebody in the restaurant community or the hotel community on Siesta.”
Earlier, Maio had referred to the “hundreds if not a thousand emails” he and his fellow board members had received from people in the hospitality industry in the county.
After the Oct. 23 hearing, Parr sent an email to Maio, on which Parr copied the other board members — and the News Leader.
“I would be less than honest if I did not let you know how disappointed I was with today’s meeting,” Parr began. “My head was spinning as I walked out and drove to my almost empty Siesta Sunset Royale building,” he continued.
“In view of your comment about trepidation when you see a call or contact attempt from Siesta Key businesses or owners I was stunned that you chose to make the vote unanimous for the other commissioners as you sold out your supposed constituents,” Parr added. “This caused me to start [to] wonder what the benefits would be for Siesta Key to incorporate and remove ourselves from the county spending of our bed tax revenue. … I pay to belong to Visit Sarasota [County] and my only direct benefit is the weekly accommodation inquiries of which we received 9 today, all for 2019.”
Parr concluded his email with the following: “Obviously I’m very depressed and as I pulled into my almost empty building and saw your [campaign] sign on my wall I had to wonder why I would support and ask [passersby] to vote for Alan Maio? This is a question I would like to … ask you soon.”
Maio, who first was elected to the commission in November 2014, is running for re-election this year. His opponent in the Nov. 6 General Election is Democrat Wesley Anne Beggs of Sarasota. (See the related story in this issue.)
The other Siesta speaker was Dr. Gary Kompothecras, best known for his 1-800-ASK-GARY medical and legal referral service advertising.
Kompothecras has lived on Siesta since 1983, he told the commissioners. “I’ve never seen any such devastation in my life,” he added of red tide’s effects.
Explaining that his house is on the beach, Kompothecras said he was used to looking outside and seeing people “on my private beach with tents and umbrellas and coolers and walking all over the place.”
Over the past few months, he added, since red tide drove away the visitors, no one is there. “Zero. My beach is empty. I finally got what I wanted: a nice private beach.”
He also explained that he owns the 19-room Captiva Beach Resort on Siesta, on which he spent $1 million in renovations. He indicated that he had just one guest as he was speaking to the commissioners. (The hotel is located at 6772 Sarasea Circle, south of the Stickney Point Road intersection with Midnight Pass Road.)
“Go to [the] restaurants,” he continued. “No one’s there. The waitresses are starving; they can’t make their rent. … This is worse than a hurricane. … [Guests are] cancelling in January,” he pointed out.
“If this red tide hits again,” Kompothecras said, “the season’s gone.”
He suggested the Baltimore Orioles, which conduct Spring Training at Ed Smith Stadium, add a surcharge of $2 to $3 per ticket to raise the revenue for the facilities repairs.
Nicole Rissler, interim director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, explained at the outset of the hearing that a Memorandum of Understanding between the county and the Orioles requires the county to ensure the stadium conforms to Major League Baseball standards.