A smaller Siesta Fiesta sparks some criticism; the Chamber plans its next quarterly meeting; the county offers more details on its efforts to fight cigarette butt litter; and an SKA report finds the wastewater plant decommissioning project on schedule
Some business owners have made known their displeasure that vendors during the 39th Annual Siesta Fiesta were not placed north of the four-way intersection on Ocean Boulevard, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.
Views about the quality of the show’s offerings are mixed, too, based on several interviews the News Leader conducted this week.
Produced by Howard Alan & American Craft Endeavors, the event traditionally follows the end of high tourist season. As Mark Smith, chair of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, pointed out to the News Leader on May 2, “The whole reason [we created the festival] … was to bring visitors to the Village and Siesta Key during the slow period.”
Yet, the event has had its critics over the years, with some restaurant and bar owners complaining that the closure of part of Ocean Boulevard has reduced their business over Siesta Fiesta weekend. The decision to keep the road open last year resulted in a smaller show, which organizers agreed was not as successful.
This year, Kay Kouvatsos, co-owner of Village Café, told the News Leader she felt the show was “essentially half the size, if you ask me,” of its installments prior to 2016. “There was nothing from the [four-way] stop sign all the way up to the Old Salty Dog.” She felt that was a disappointment to visitors.
Rick Lizotte, co-owner of Comfort Shoes in Davidson Village, was even more adamant about his distress over the vendor layout. “I was quite upset with the festival,” he told the News Leader on May 2. When he drove into the Village on Saturday, he continued, he was surprised to see no booths standing on the north end of Ocean Boulevard.
He has been the co-owner of his shop for about a decade, he pointed out. Up until this year, he added, Siesta Fiesta meant “the two single largest days of the year” for visitors in Siesta Village.
In years past, he added, the SunTrust bank parking lot next to the Old Salty Dog restaurant was filled with vendor tents, for example. Plenty of food vendors added to the festive atmosphere, too, he said. This year, he saw only one booth offering food and two lemonade stands.
Moreover, Lizotte continued, he felt the items for sale were of lesser quality than he has seen in the past. “I remember five or six years ago when there was bona fide artwork” — one-of-a-kind items going for $5,000 to $6,000, he pointed out.
“I would not call it a quality show” this year, Lizotte added. “Way too much jewelry.”
One resident who has lived on Siesta for almost 20 years told the News Leader she, too, found the offerings to pale in comparison to those she had seen in the past. “I wasn’t thrilled with a lot of it [this time],” Harriet Cuthbert said of Siesta Fiesta.
She walked the entire length of the show — covering both sides of the street, she pointed out. “I was very surprised to see not as many booths.”
Yet, Cuthbert said she was awed by one vendor from St. Augustine, Andrew Mosedale, who was selling photographic works. “I thought he was spectacular. … His work really stood out.” Because of that, she noted, he drew lots of people to his booth.
When she was in Davidson’s early this week, Cuthbert said, she heard several people chatting who shared her assessment about the smaller number of interesting vendors.
Smith of the Siesta Chamber had a different view, as did his friend, Esther Quiles, who is an artist.
“I think [Siesta Fiesta] was much better [this year],” Smith told the News Leader. “We had some real artists, not just the crafts. … [Quiles] had the same opinion I had.”
Although he had heard some comments about the smaller number of vendors, he said he personally would prefer fewer booths with artists of superior caliber.
In past years, members of the Siesta Key Village Association — which used to sponsor the show — pointed out that Howard Alan often has more than one event on a given weekend, and the firm handles the responsibility of choosing which vendors participate in which show. A News Leader check of the Howard Alan calendar for the weekend of April 29-30 found the firm was producing a show in Fairfax, Va., at the same time.
As for the Siesta Fiesta set-up this time, Smith explained, “We don’t have any control over where [Howard Alan representatives] put [the booths].” Still, he continued, he had talked with Ann Frescura, executive director of the Siesta Chamber, about working with the firm to ensure vendors are situated along the northern part of Ocean Boulevard in the future. “It would be a good thing to bring ’em further down.”
One other person who was pleased with the event was Peter van Roekens, who lives in the Terrace East building in Siesta Village. For a number of years, Van Roekens has managed the sales of the annual Siesta Fiesta T-shirts; the proceeds went to the Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA). (At the end of 2016, the Chamber absorbed the SKVA.)
“People seemed happy,” van Roekens told the News Leader.
He and his team of volunteers sold about 200 shirts, he pointed out, so they talked to quite a few visitors.
“Overall,” Smith said, “I think [Siesta Fiesta] went well.”
Frescura told the News Leader she had sent an email to the Howard Alan firm early this week, seeking its representatives’ assessment of the event.
The Chamber will work to address the concerns of business owners, she added, noting that she, too, had heard some of the concerns voiced to the News Leader. “With any event,” she pointed out, “there is always room for improvement.”
Quarterly Chamber meeting
The next quarterly meeting of members of the Siesta Key Chamber will be held on Wednesday, May 17, at 5:30 p.m. at St. Boniface Episcopal Church, Ann Frescura, the chamber’s executive director, told the News Leader this week.
Two speakers are on the tentative agenda, she said: Meredith Scerba, executive director of the World Rowing Championships, which will be held at Nathan Benderson Park in late September; and Bill Kinney, founder of the Siesta Beach Seafood & Music Festival, which was held for the first time on Siesta Public Beach in December 2016. Kinney’s business is Paragon Fine Art Festivals.
Before the Chamber absorbed the Siesta Key Village Association at the end of 2016, Chamber Chair Mark Smith promised that the Chamber would conduct quarterly meetings open to the membership. That way, he said, anyone interested in asking about specific topics would have a forum in which to do so.
Smith conducted the first quarterly meeting in February.
More on the cigarette litter campaign
Last month, Michael Shay — a longtime leader of cleanup efforts on the Key — told the News Leader that Sarasota County had received a grant to help staff encourage people not to litter the beaches with cigarette butts. The county recently issued a news release about that initiative, which, it turns out, is focused on Siesta Key.
Keep Sarasota County Beautiful received $5,000 in the form of a 2017 Cigarette Litter Prevention Program Grant from the national nonprofit Keep America Beautiful “to combat cigarette litter in our community,” the release says.
“Staff of Keep Sarasota County Beautiful and the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department partnered to apply for the grant to purchase and install ash receptacles in an effort to reduce cigarette litter along Siesta Beach and Turtle Beach,” the release explains. “Nearly 40 receptacles will be installed throughout the public access areas along the beaches over the summer months,” it notes.
Keep Sarasota County Beautiful is one of 37 organizations to receive the grant funding for 2017, which totaled $297,500, the release adds. Now in its 15th year, the Cigarette Litter Prevention Program “is the nation’s largest aimed at reducing cigarette litter,” the release points out.
Communities that implemented the Cigarette Litter Prevention Program in 2016 realized an average reduction of 60% in cigarette litter, an 8% increase over the 2015 results, the release notes.
“We are honored to be one of the 37 organizations selected to receive grant funding for the 2017 Cigarette Litter Prevention Program,” said Keep Sarasota County Beautiful’s Program Coordinator Wendi Crisp in the release. “Our hope is that the installation of ash receptacles in high use areas at Siesta Beach and Turtle Beach will help make a tremendous impact in the number of cigarette butts that are disposed of properly and not found as litter.”
“Since its establishment, the Cigarette Litter Prevention Program has consistently cut cigarette butt litter by approximately half based on local measurements taken in the first four months to six months after program implementation,” the release continues. “Survey results also demonstrate that as communities continue to implement and monitor the program those reductions are sustained or even increased over time,” it adds.
Update on the wastewater plant project
On April 20, Robert Luckner, a member of the Siesta Key Association’s Environmental Committee, provided an update regarding the county’s project that will lead to the decommissioning of the Siesta Key Wastewater Treatment Plant.
That day, he wrote in an email he shared with the News Leader, he and his wife, Catherine — the SKA’s vice president — “visited the work site with Construction Project Manager John Saputo, a Sarasota County employee. We learned the following status”:
- The project is on schedule for completion by the end of the year, with the new master pump station going online to send effluent to county facilities on the mainland. “We reinforced to John (as we did to Commissioner [Mike] Moran … at the [April] SKA meeting) that it will be a big deal if the county does not get the new project up and running by the end of the year and the existing plant [shut down]. He clearly understands that,” Robert Luckner wrote.
- “While we toured the site we noted that the existing plant’s operation was essentially without odor thanks to the ongoing efforts of Dave Cash and his staff; good job!”
(Cash is the manager of the county’s Water/Wastewater Division.)
- “We asked about any complaints from the work site neighbors,” Luckner continued. “John related stories about working with neighbors along the east side of the work site (houses on Winding Way) on tree removal on the edge of the plant site to make room for the new fresh water and forced main pipelines and said they had no problems. Neighbors surrounding the work site had also not reported any noise or dust complaints.”
- The construction at the plant site itself appears on schedule, too, Luckner noted. The large concrete pump well is complete, he added. It is 14.5 feet deep by 30 feet long by 20 feet wide, with a deck 13.5 feet above sea level with local grade at 6 feet, he noted. “It has a large back-up generator pad that is also complete.”
- The two new large submerged pumps (100% back-up) were on- site, as well, Luckner pointed out, and the two smaller pumps were to be delivered shortly, along with the new diesel back-up pump.
- The work site “was well maintained and everyone was using proper safety equipment,” he wrote.
- The first 500 feet of pipe along Winding Way south from the plant “has already been installed and you cannot even tell it was complete as the drilled installations required NO surface disruption of yards or the intersection of Shadow Lawn Drive and Idlewild Way,” he added.
- The next 500 feet was being drilled and the pipeline fabricated on-site, he noted. Pipeline fabrication means stringing out the long lengths of plastic pipe and bonding them together through use of an electric heating system, which melds the joints, he explained.
- “The contractor is working well with residents along the road,” he continued. Most residents are not having to deal with disruption of their yards, he pointed out. One drill hole is at a new house site, and the contractors are working well together, he added.
- “Construction at Shadow Lawn Way is still scheduled for June after school is out and the school bus stop at Midnight Pass and Shadow Lawn Way is not being used,” he noted. “Arrangements are well underway for a temporary traffic light at [the intersection of] Beach Road and Beach Way Drive while Shadow Lawn Way is closed for less than a month.”
Luckner summed up their findings: “Overall, this looked like a well managed project by a good contractor (Cardinal) operating under a lump sum contract. John was understandably proud of the project progress.”