Manatee Beach: End of an era?

    Manatee Beach: End of an era?
    Manatee Beach was packed this spring. If Gov. Ron DeSantis signs HB 947, the park’s concession stand will be demolished to make way for a three-story parking garage. - Troy Morgan/ | Submitted

    HOLMES BEACH – Florida House Bill 947 has just one more stoplight to pass before it becomes law, being signed into law – or not – by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

    If the bill is signed, Manatee County has the green light to build a three-story, 1500-plus space parking garage spanning the width and breadth of the county-owned parking lot at Manatee Beach. All existing facilities at the beach, including the concession stand, retail and restrooms, would be demolished, with new facilities located in the parking garage.

    Some locals and visitors are not happy about what would be the end of an era on Anna Maria Island.

    The concession building has been at the public beach for decades, with the roof once functioning as a community dance floor. And while some people don’t mind the potential changes, others don’t want to see the current parking area and concession building demolished.

    Manatee Beach: End of an era?
    Carolyn Brown shares a vintage postcard photo of the concession building at Manatee Beach along with a plea for lawmakers, “Please don’t destroy this gem.” – Submitted | Carolyn Brown

    The place is important to former Holmes Beach mayor, former county commissioner and long-time Holmes Beach resident Carol Whitmore.

    “I have fond memories of the concession area since 1969,” she said. “That was the beach of choice for the islanders to gather. I used to go in the cold months and lay where the patio is currently behind the wall so I was protected from the cold weather. When they had steps leading to the rest, but it was cut off, my daughter and I used to sit at the top being protected by the cold weather to get sun. At one point I lived on top of West Coast Surf Shop with my daughter and I will never forget the public beach and the concession stand area.”

    “I have a lot of memories of the public beach,” Holmes Beach resident and charter fishing Capt. Scott Moore said. “Years ago, we actually used to be able to dance on top of the concession building. There were stairs going up to the top and you could see all over and see the sunsets. My biggest memories are of the fishing pier that was in front of the public beach. We miss that. It also made for great surfing. A lot of people would like to have it back so they could fish off it. I know people don’t like changes, but I don’t care about the parking garage. Give my pier back.”

    The owners of the West Coast Surf Shop, Florida’s oldest surf shop at the edge of the parking lot where the proposed parking garage would be built, are not happy about the prospect of a three-story structure at the beach.

    Ronee and Jim Brady have owned the surf shop at 3902 Gulf Drive for 59 years.

    “We don’t need any more concrete,” Ronee said, adding, “We have miles of parking at Coquina Beach that’s been under construction for two years. What about that parking?”

    Jim expressed concern about the additional traffic and infrastructure.

    “We don’t have the infrastructure for more cars,” he said. “The beach holds 500 cars, at the intersection going to the beach there are 35,000 to 40,000 cars a day and it’s congested. At another 1,000 cars with three people per car, there just isn’t enough room.”

    Ronee recalls the dances on the concession roof in the 1960s and 70s.

    “They used to have steps going up to the top and they had dances up there,” she said. “That building has a lot of history and that’s a shame to lose it.”

    Manatee Beach: End of an era?
    A crowd gathers well before sunset on May 11 to listen to live music, eat dinner and enjoy the view at the Anna Maria Island Beach Café at Manatee Beach. The beach café building, along with restrooms and a retail shop, is planned to be demolished as part of a plan to build a parking garage at the site. – Kristin Swain | Sun

    Tanner Enoch, whose family has owned the Manatee Beach concession for the past 12 years, is taking a wait-and-see approach.

    “We have a good partnership with Manatee County. We work with the county and we appreciate their ongoing effort to make improvements,” Enoch said. “Right now, my understanding is they’re seeing if they’re able to do this. I’m not super concerned.”

    Enoch said his family’s beach concessions at Manatee and Coquina Beaches employ around 70 people.

    “We’re happy with what we have here and we hope it doesn’t change anytime soon,” he said.

    While too young to see it personally, Enoch said he has seen old pictures of the beach concession building when it had a rooftop dance floor.

    More than 200 people took to The Sun’s Facebook page to have their voices heard.

    “We’ve been vacationing there for years and plan to buy a home eventually,” Kensy Carter said. “If the parking garage happens, we will have to find a new spot. I can’t imagine how crowded the beaches would be. The quaint vibe we love so much would be ruined.”

    “Ever since moving to the Island in 1999, we have enjoyed eating at the Manatee Beach café,” Suzanne Lansing Moderhak said. “Our kids/grands call it ‘pancakes on the beach.’ We have met our Canadian friends every Wednesday night for years during season for dinner to eat and listen to the music. We are very disappointed in the decision to tear it down for 2 years while an unnecessary parking garage is built.”

    “This cafe and beach area is an iconic part of AMI, with decades of memories for so many!” Laura Lynch said, adding that she feels having a concrete parking garage as the first impression of Anna Maria Island for visitors is “a travesty,” a sentiment echoed by many others, including  Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth, who led opposition to the garage.

    Multi-level parking garages are not an allowable use within the city of Holmes Beach, where Manatee Beach is located, unless commissioners approve a special exception.

    Manatee County Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge took his plan to build a parking garage at the county-owned beach to the local state legislative delegation when he concluded that Holmes Beach commissioners would not approve the use. Legislators gave his plan their unanimous approval, translating the request into a bill that passed both the state House and Senate. DeSantis can choose to sign, veto or ignore the bill, which would put it into law automatically.

    If the bill becomes law, Manatee County Commissioner George Kruse said he estimates it would take about a year to get shovels in the ground to start construction of the parking garage if it’s approved by a majority of county commissioners.

    Estimated to cost around $45 million with at least a two-year construction time, the garage would have to have paid parking to pay for construction and upkeep, estimated at $2 per hour per vehicle, Van Ostenbridge said.