Siesta Seen

Lobster Pot co-owner talks of a close call; Liberty Litter Cleanup volunteers find plenty to do on Siesta; Chamber decides not to partner with Seafood & Music Festival organizer; Village’s Public Improvement District taxable value up; Cosentino gains more charter petition signatures; Parks Department seeking County Commission OK to hire full-time beach attendants; and MTV reality show on Siesta gets a debut date

A rescue unit is parked next to the truck that crashed into the Lobster Pot on July 4. Photo contributed by Dennis Madden

Glen Medeiros, co-owner of the Lobster Pot in Siesta Village, truly was counting his blessings on July 5, a day after a truck plowed into the patio in front of the restaurant.

His son and partner in the business, Tony, had given him the day off for the July Fourth holiday, Glen said.

“Normally, I work on Tuesdays,” he continued, “and I sit at that table where that truck went through,” placing orders. “So I am blessed,” he said. “I am blessed.”

The crash occurred around 9:45 a.m., based on reports. The driver apparently had a medical problem, Glen Medeiros told the News Leader during the July 5 telephone interview. The truck was headed north on Ocean Boulevard, reports said, when it veered into the Lobster Pot.

Sgt. Jason Mruczek, leader of the Sheriff’s Office substation on the Key, also told the News Leader that the driver “may have suffered a medical episode.” The Florida Highway Patrol handled the accident, Mruczek pointed out.

“We are thankful that we were closed and nobody was killed here,” Medeiros added.

Meaney’s Mini Donuts is next to the Lobster Pot. Photo from Google Maps

Not only was he spared injury, he pointed out, but so were bystanders. Normally, Medeiros said, at that time of morning, 20 to 25 people are lined up in front of the restaurant as they wait in line to buy treats from the adjacent Meaney’s Mini Donuts. “Luckily, yesterday, they were on the opposite side,” in front of Morton’s Siesta Market, he noted.

Even though he was supposed to be taking off July 4, Medeiros continued, he had decided to come in anyway and help out Tony. “It was a pretty scary situation,” he added of the truck’s crashing into the long-time Siesta Village dining establishment.

The Lobster Pot was set to reopen at 11:30 a.m. on July 6, he told the News Leader. Sarasota County staff allowed the Medeiroses to pull down a hurricane shutter that the family had installed between the patio and the main dining room, he explained. That way, diners will be separated from the damaged patio.

“We’ve been working all yesterday and today,” Medeiros added on July 5, getting contractors together and taking the necessary steps to welcome customers on July 6.

Damage to the patio is visible after removal of the truck. Contributed photo by Michael Shay

He said he hoped the driver of the truck — who was transported to Sarasota Memorial Hospital — would be all right, but he had heard no further information about the man before he spoke with the News Leader shortly after 4 p.m. on July 5.

Michael Shay, maintenance manager for the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp. — which handles the Village upkeep — told the News Leader that the truck finally was removed from the scene about 12:30 p.m. on July 4. Shay also reported that none of the Maintenance Corp.’s assets were damaged in the incident.

July 5 Liberty Litter Cleanup on Siesta

Asked about the July 5 Liberty Litter Cleanup on Siesta Beach, long-time Keep Sarasota County Beautiful volunteer Michael Shay reported to the News Leader that when he arrived at the beach at 6:30 a.m. on July 5, Keep Sarasota County Beautiful staff members had their table and tent set up at the pavilion next to the playground. The picnic area by the playground and most of the parking lot had been cleaned already by county staff, he added.

Trash bags are strewn along the northern part of Siesta Public Beach. Photo contributed by Michael Shay

At 7 a.m., he and his group of about 30 volunteers, who had signed in already, went to the north end of the beach park, “and that area had not been cleaned completely yet,” he wrote in a July 5 email. “What a mess (see photos).” County staff was calling that section of the beach “Tent City,” Shay noted, because mostly young people had partied in that area and left a lot of trash. People used the yellow garbage bags that volunteers handed out, he added, “but then just left them on the beach. We picked up trash, bagged it, left it in piles and [county staff] came with an open top truck & ‘grabber’ and scooped up the garbage.”

Volunteers pick up trash on the beach during the July 5 Liberty Litter Cleanup. Photo contributed by Michael Shay

In response to questions from the News Leader, county spokesman Jason Bartolone reported from Keep Sarasota County Beautiful that, altogether, more than 80 volunteers assisted with the countywide Liberty Litter Cleanup at seven sites; about half of them worked on Siesta Beach. Those generous folks contributed more than 115 hours of service, he added.

Although the News Leader asked about the final figures for tonnage of trash, Bartolone explained in his July 6 email that staff measures the material by the number of dumpsters that are filled and the cubic yardage in those dumpsters. It is difficult to convert that to tonnage, Bartolone added, “as the weight can vary depending on the type of garbage. Cubic yards is the best measure, but it’s hard for the average person to grasp how much trash that is compared to tons.”

The rough estimate for garbage collected on Siesta Key throughout the July Fourth holiday period was 240 cubic yards, or roughly 65 tons, Bartolone noted. That report was for the beach access points, as well as Siesta Public Beach and Turtle Beach, he wrote.

The countywide total was 163 tons, he added.

These are the statistics Sarasota County compiled for trash collected over the July Fourth holiday. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Chamber turns down Seafood & Music Festival invitation

When the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce conducted its quarterly meeting for members in May, Bill Kinney of Paragon Fine Art Festivals had a spot on the agenda to talk about his second Siesta Beach Seafood & Music Festival, set for Dec. 2-3 on Siesta Public Beach.

The inaugural event in 2016 “was an enormous success,” he told the approximately 18 people present. His goal, he said, is to be more inclusive of island businesses with the next one. Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR) staff, he indicated, also was hoping to see more involvement of island restaurants in the upcoming event. Therefore, he continued, he was seeking the Chamber’s support for the 2017 festival.

Bill Kinney addresses Chamber members in May. Rachel Hackney photo

(County spokesman Drew Winchester told the News Leader in a June 2 email that PRNR staff members “have been working collaboratively with Mr. Kinney on [the 2017] event and staff suggested that he communicate the event plans [to] the Siesta Key Chamber … This was not a requirement of [Kinney’s] getting the permit to do the event.”)

Based on revenue generated by the first festival — which does not charge admission — Kinney told the Chamber members in May that he would expect to be able to donate $4,000 to $6,000 to the Chamber from the 2017 proceeds, if it partnered with Paragon. “You don’t have to do a thing,” he added, in terms of actual activities during the festival.

Kinney stressed that he did not want to hurt island businesses “by sucking all the energy out of the local area.” No Siesta-based restaurants participated in the first festival, he acknowledged. However, a number of dining establishments with locations in downtown Sarasota offered food to the event-goers, he noted.

When asked how he reached out to island restaurant owners to seek their participation, Kinney explained that the had one of Paragon’s representatives “go to each restaurant personally. … Every restaurant, with the exception of one, was invited [to be part of the festival],” he added without elaborating on that exception.

On the Saturday night following the first day of the festival in December 2016, he continued, he visited several Village restaurants — Blasé Café, the Daiquiri Deck, the Siesta Key Oyster Bar and Flavio’s Brick Oven and Bar — “and all of them had an increase in business.”

He spoke to 10 people at Blasé, he added, and all of them had gone to that restaurant after attending the festival. “So we had a huge financial impact on the businesses,” Kinney said.

Additionally, worries voiced before the 2016 event about the potential that the music “would disrupt the tranquility of the residents and condos” proved to be unfounded, he pointed out. “We took decibel readings during the event, and we had absolutely no issues at all.”

Chamber Chair Mark Smith told Kinney that he heard complaints that the December 2016 event “hindered folks getting to the beach.”

Vendors offered an array of seafood during the 2016 Siesta Seafood & Music Festival. Contributed photo by Harriet Cuthbert

Kinney replied that county staff decided to have the restaurant vendors set up on areas where pavers are located in the beach park. However, Kinney added, he and his staff ensured that the pavers were cleaned thoroughly after the event ended.

“[The festival] didn’t affect me one way or the other,” Kay Kouvatsos, co-owner of Village Café, told Kinney. However, she continued, she heard complaints about county staff allowing a private enterprise to use a public park to make money. “It raised a lot of tail feathers,” she added.

“I’m not making any money” from the Siesta event for probably three years, Kinney replied, given the start-up nature of the festival on the island. He said he saw the event as an investment in the community, and all of his vendors were based in Sarasota County.

“It’s a county park,” Kouvatsos emphasized.

“The event was sponsored by a not-for-profit [organization],” Kinney responded.

In May 2015, Kinney said, he asked the leaders of the Siesta Key Village Association to be a partner with him in the first festival on Siesta Beach, but they declined. Then he sought another not-for-profit organization to become involved with the event.

Siesta Chamber directors and County Commissioner Alan Maio (far right) listen to discussion on May 17. Rachel Hackney photo

Her biggest concern was the potential for damage to the pavers, Kouvatsos said, given the $21.5 million the county paid for improvements at the beach park.

“We covered the pavers,” Kinney responded, reiterating his view that staff should have put the vendors in a different area.

The parking lot would have been better, Kouvatsos said.

“Let’s get everybody else involved,” Kinney told the Chamber members. “Let’s make this a community event.”

Thirty percent of the attendees were from outside the county, he added. “This has been a solid event for us across the board,” he added of similar festivals he has planned in other parts of the county. “We haven’t had a failure yet … I just hope that we can all … get along. If there are issues, I am open to addressing issues.”

Kouvatsos told him she attended the inaugural Downtown Sarasota Seafood & Music Festival in 2015 and thought it was “a great event.”

“You gave us some food for thought here,” Smith told Kinney at the conclusion of Kinney’s remarks. “Hopefully, we’ll digest it.”

Subsequent to Kinney’s presentation, Smith sent a survey to Chamber members, asking them their views about the potential for the organization’s partnering with Paragon.

During a July 3 telephone interview, Smith told the News Leader he had received some responses, and then the Chamber board had discussed the matter. Ultimately, he said, the decision was made “not to get involved with Bill Kinney.”

Long tables provided plenty of seating for eating and listening to the bands during the 2016 event. Contributed photo by Harriet Cuthbert

Smith added, “The Chamber doesn’t want to get in the practice of partnering with third parties.” Even if the Chamber were just a partner in the Seafood & Music Festival, he pointed out, the public would perceive the event as a Chamber function. That also would mean the Chamber “would take the heat” if the public was upset about any facets of the festival, Smith noted.

“To take the heat for somebody else’s party” is not something the Chamber board wants to do, he said.

When the Chamber handled its first Siesta Fiesta in April, Smith continued, one member was “extremely upset” about how that event transpired. (In the past, the Siesta Key Village Association worked with Howard Alan Events to host Siesta Fiesta; the Chamber absorbed the Village Association at the end of 2016.)

“We’re not going to stop our relationship with Siesta Fiesta,” Smith stressed, “but do we really want to make a habit of [working with other entities on events]?”

He had sent Kinney a letter explaining the Chamber’s position and wishing Kinney well, Smith added.

During a July 5 telephone interview, Kinney told the News Leader he had no comment about the Chamber’s decision other than to say, “It’s a shame.”

Asked how the planning is going for the second Siesta festival, he replied, “Phenomenal. … It’s only going to be better this year.”
Additionally, Kinney said, county staff has decided to allow the vendors to set up on the sand instead of on the pavers.

Final property value for Public Improvement District

The overall taxable value of property in the Siesta Key Village Public Improvement District (PID) for this year is $67,704,401, the county Property Appraiser’s Office reported last week — along with the other final values, which were due to the state by July 1.

The total for the PID is an increase from the 2016 value of $66,686,461.

The Public Improvement District is the area where Sarasota County undertook the beautification initiative that was completed in early 2009. The property owners pay taxes each year that cover the cost of upkeep in the district.

The Beach Road Charter amendments

Mike Cosentino’s truck publicizing his Reopen Beach Road initiative has become a common sight on Siesta Key. File photo

On June 29, the News Leader once again checked on the status of Siesta resident Mike Cosentino’s push to get two proposed Sarasota County Charter amendments regarding North Beach Road on a ballot. As of that date, the total number of valid voter signatures for each was 4,338, the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office reported.

He needs 13,866 valid signatures for each amendment to place it on a ballot, Supervisor of Elections Office staff has told the News Leader.

A reader recently reported seeing Cosentino at work on that signature drive, stopping people going into and out of the Terrace Building in downtown Sarasota. That building is home to the headquarters of the Supervisor of Elections and Sarasota County Tax Collector offices.

Parks Department asking for more permanent help

Although the County Commission’s decision on the request may not be made final for a while, the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department is seeking six new full-time employees for the 2018 fiscal year.

Five of the positions would replace contractual workers, enabling staff to keep beach facilities in tip-top shape, Carolyn Brown, the department’s director, explained to the board during its June 21 budget workshop. The sixth person would supervise the new “medallions” program for companies offering rentals of non-motorized watercraft at Turtle Beach Park, Brown added. That employee also would help out at the Turtle Beach Campground, she said.

Carolyn Brown. File photo

The goal with the five beach attendant positions, Brown explained, is “to be able to deal with the job at hand” — directing work as needed, including cleaning restrooms and picking up trash. “We feel it’s important … so that we can more easily direct them to do various tasks.”

When Chair Paul Caragiulo pressed for more details, Brown told him that the department has been contracting with janitorial services to handle the work these full-time employees would be doing. “On multiple occasions,” she said, “the contract failed.”

Given the popularity of the county’s beaches with tourists and residents, Brown continued, her department needs “to be able to have a reliable and dependable crew on site.”

When Caragiulo asked for clarification that the shift to use of the full-time employees would save money, Brown replied, “That’s correct.”

As he did at other points throughout the county’s late June budget workshop discussions, Caragiulo asked for more details about the breakdown of expenses regarding those new employees.

“Let’s not kid ourselves: We’re being forced to make some pretty serious decisions.”

The commission has been working with staff to try to balance the 2018 fiscal year budget without raising the millage rate.

At the end of the two days of workshops, it was Caragiulo who — after passing the gavel to Vice Chair Nancy Detert — made the motion calling for County Administrator Tom Harmer to work with each department whose budget showed an increase for the 2018 fiscal year to determine what would get cut if the department had to halve that increase. The total PRNR budget for the next fiscal year is projected to be down by 3.7%, compared to the FY17 budget.

The final budget workshop is set for Aug. 21.

MTV’s Siesta Key to debut this month

On May 7, during the MTV Movie and TV Awards, MTV unveiled an ad for a new reality series set on Siesta Key. This week, MTV used a Twitter account to announce that the series would debut on July 31.

The show will air at 10 p.m., @siestakey says. The Twitter tagline is “Get ready for the summer of a lifetime in #SiestaKey.”

The Twitter account features the same 15-second promo that aired in May, with emphasis on romance and elegant houses on the water.