Vol 7 No. 44 - July 25, 2007

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Summer tourism sizzling

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Tidemark owners buying Blue Water resort

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Island property sales rise

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Budget cuts may affect Island

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper New special master waits for first case

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Eco-center, performing arts pavilion concept approved

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper GSR abandons Island properties

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Fire budget shows decrease of $500,000 from last year




Summer tourism sizzling

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

The summer season is hot in more ways than one.

Tourism is up during what has long been considered the off season due to the triple threat of heat, humidity and hurricanes.

"Normally by this time I’m slowing down and I don’t seem to be doing that," said Captain Kim Ibasfalean, of Capt. Kim’s Charters in Cortez, who credits the increase to the absence of hurricanes and red tide.

Occupancy has been higher at Bridgewalk than it was last year, thanks to no hurricanes or red tide, agreed manager Barbara Rodocker.

At the Chiles Group restaurants, the BeachHouse, Sandbar and Mar Vista, sales were up in May, June and July, said Steve Ananicz.

"We’ve seen more people consistently this year," he said, crediting favorable weather. "With us being on the water, when it’s raining at night and in the morning, it helps us."

At Mote Marine Aquarium, attendance in May and June also was up slightly over last year, Vice President Dan Debak said, adding that "Two years of no storms is helping."

Anna Maria Island occupancy rates have been up every month this year except for May, with 30.4 percent of the rooms surveyed filled in January, up from 29.3 percent last year, 70 percent filled in February, up from 59.6 percent last year, 84.7 percent filled in March, up from 77.3 percent last year and 61.8 percent filled in April, up from 60.5 percent last year. After a tiny dip in May, from 53 percent last year to 52.2 percent this year, June occupancy was up again from 53.6 percent last year to 59.5 percent this year, according to the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Part of the reason may be a wider marketing effort to far-flung Floridians in Jacksonville and Fort Lauderdale, said Susan Estler of the CVB. Summer visitors have typically been Florida families from Tampa, Orlando and Lakeland, she said. International travelers also are taking advantage of favorable currency exchange rates, she added.

The CVB has planned ahead to keep the upswing going with Jazz on the Islands, a month-long promotion featuring live jazz music performed in area venues during August, traditionally the slowest of the summer months.

Tidemark owners buying Blue Water resort

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH — Reliance Realty Partners has the 30-room Blue Water Beach Club, 6306 Gulf Drive, under contract and is in a due diligence period, Lance McNeill, of Reliance, announced Friday.

"It’s a beautiful property with its beach views," McNeill said. "The plan would be to renovate it and keep it as a hotel. We would do a nice upgrade of the existing rooms and upgrade the swimming pool to a resort pool.

"We want to add complimentary components to the Tidemark Resort and the Beach Inn. The guests at Blue Water also could have some use of the marina and our fleet of boats at Tidemark."

McNeill said the Beach Inn is now closed and gutting the interior will begin this week. Renovations are expected to take about 12 months. There will be 17 units in three buildings. The beach side building will include an atrium and the street side building will offer an adult game and exercise room.

"We have given Brent Whitehead the go ahead for construction," McNeill said.

At Tidemark, the 62 docks in the yacht basin are under construction and when they are completed, selected local guides will move into the basin. Once the resort is open, the guides will be part of its reservation system.

In addition, a fleet of 25 to 30 boats will be available in the yacht basin for owners to use at no cost. There will be a variety of types of boats for owners to select.

"We are very committed to the Island long term in all aspects – retail, residential, hotel," McNeill stressed. "We’re not here to make a developer’s hit and run. We have a vision, a long-term view."

Island property sales rise

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

Property sales on Anna Maria Island continue to buck national and state trends, thanks to an active first half of 2007, according to the latest Anna Maria Island Property Sales Report.

The latest report, compiled and analyzed by Dantia and Barry Gould, of Island Vacation Properties in Holmes Beach, shows a total of 119 properties were sold in the first six months of the year as compared to 87 sales in the same time period a year earlier. That represents a 37 percent rise in sales units.

The number of units sold and the average price for this year’s first half is:

• Single family residences: 66 sales averaging $630,000;

• Condominiums: 40 sales averaging $540,000.

The figures for the first half of 2006 were:

• Duplexes and triplexes: 8 sales averaging $583,000;

• Single family residences: 43 sales averaging $1,009,000;

• Condominiums: 29 sales averaging $675,000;

• Duplexes and triplexes: 12 sales averaging $688,000.

The report noted that the average sale prices were down significantly from last year but the numbers do not accurately reflect the drop in property values, Gould said. One factor is that buyers are closing on lower priced properties this year.

The number of single-family residences, condominiums and duplexes that sold for $500,000 or less was 52 in the first six months of this year compared with 25 during the first months of last year. Sales of homes from $500,000 to $1 million were 53 during the first half of this year compared with 42 during that period last year. Seven units were sold between $1 million and $1.5 million between January and June of this year – the same as in 2006. One home sold between $1.5 million and $2 million during the first half of this year compared with six a year earlier and there was one sale this year of a home over $2 million compared with four a year earlier.
According to the report, there are some positive factors in the market place.
"Interest rates are fluctuating, but are still near historic lows and lenders in the area are offering very attractive programs. Sellers are negotiating more than ever, accepting better terms and offering more incentives than ever before. There continues to be brisk activity with 32 current pending sales averaging $583,000 (list price). This does not include all the properties that are part of the plan for Pine Avenue in Anna Maria. This proposal in itself is sending a clear message that it is time to buy."

The report also listed the following as factors in the increases:

• Tourism is up, which means increased rental income potential makes deals more attractive.

• Property taxes will be less this year due to recent legislation and may be even lower if a referendum on the January 29, 2008 ballot passes. The savings will be mostly for those buyers planning to make the property their primary home.

• There are so many choices of properties on the market that if buyers are serious about shopping they will likely find just what they want at a price they can afford.

The report near record levels of home construction on the Island.

"These developers and their lenders are not spooked by the negative reports," it said. "You have to wonder what they know that others do not know about where the housing market is heading.

"Overall, most experts believe we have passed the low point in the market cycle and smart buyers are jumping in and finding great deals."

Dantia Gould is the editor of the Anna Maria Island Property Sales Report and may be reached at 448-5500.


Budget cuts may affect Island

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

Manatee County commissioners discussed possible ways to trim the county budget on Monday, with some of the cuts affecting Anna Maria Island beaches, trolleys and library service.

The property tax reform law passed by the Florida Legislature in June dictates county budget cuts that will reduce services, County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said.

The law is designed to cut taxes, partly by rolling back municipal taxes to last year’s levels. Counties that spent too much, according to a comparative formula, will have to trim 3 to 9 percent from their budgets. Manatee County is in the 9 percent category.

To decrease expenses, Hunzeker recommended a $3.7 million reduction for parks and recreation department projects, and instituting or increasing park fees, which could translate to parking fees at the county’s two public beaches and reduced beach cleaning services.

Charlie Hunsicker, director of conservation lands management, predicted when the new law was passed that beach cleaning would be among the first services to be reduced.

"Raking the beach once a day may turn into once a week or once a month," he said.

Hunzeker also recommended that a nominal fee be initiated on Jan. 1 for use of the free beach trolleys, possibly 50 cents per ride. The planned expansion of the trolley routes onto Longboat Key should not be implemented until after the Jan. 29 constitutional referendum, which could further reduce county revenues, he said.

Commissioner Joe McClash disagreed.

"I’ve always looked at the trolley as a way of giving back," he said, explaining that the Island produces more in county revenues than it uses. "If there’s a place in the county where we don’t do a lot, it’s Anna Maria Island. Taxation is supposed to be a matter of fairness."

Commissioner Carol Whitmore agreed, saying that the Island has 2 percent of the county’s population and contributes 14 percent of the county’s budget.

Commissioner Jane Von Hahmann said she supports the extension of the trolley to Longboat Key – part of which is in Manatee County – for several reasons, including boosting tourism and offering an alternative to individual fuel consumption.

But Commissioner Amy Stein disagreed, saying that Island residents use the courthouse, the jail and the library system, and have beaches maintained by the county.

Charging 50 cents for a trolley ride will not inconvenience "people owning very expensive properties on the Island," she said.

Hunzeker also recommended a four-hour-per-week reduction in the library system, which would affect the Island Branch Library, and discontinuing canal dredging projects.

Other possible ramifications could include $100,000 less for the Anna Maria Island Community Center, Whitmore said last month.

Hunzeker warned that the full impact of the law will not be known until the constitutional amendment vote on Jan. 29. That amendment includes an alternative to the Save Our Homes amendment, a super-exemption that would affect school funding, including Anna Maria Elementary School.

The county commission is scheduled to discuss budget cuts again on July 30; public hearings will be scheduled in September.


New special master waits for first case

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

BRADENTON BEACH – They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

That’s the attitude the city’s building, planning and code enforcement office has taken in dealing with building problems.

That attitude may be the reason the man hired to judge the guilt or innocence of code enforcement cases is still awaiting his first case.

Last summer, then building official Ed McAdam recommended disbanding the code enforcement board and hiring a magistrate or special master to hear complaints on an as-needed basis. The city agreed and by late fall, was searching for the right person. It hired Harold Youmans in late January, but he soon found that his plate was empty.

In fact, the number of code enforcement complaints that made it to a hearing has been nil through this year to the point that the city commissioners inquired about what was going on last month. Code Enforcement Officer Gail Garneau answered them in a memo dated June 7. It referred to a case that almost made it in June, but was abated through negotiation.

"We’re working very hard to get people to come into compliance," she said. "It’s cheaper for the city and it’s cheaper for the person involved."

When a code enforcement violation comes before the enforcement officer, she notifies the property owner and gives that owner a deadline to resolve it. If it is not resolved the city refers it to the code enforcement magistrate for a hearing, where he will judge whether the violation exists and if it does, sets a deadline to fix it and a penalty if it is not fixed by then.

The city set aside the third Thursday of each month for an evening code enforcement hearing. With a lack of cases, Garneau, Code Enforcement Officer Wendy Chabot, City Attorney Ralf Brookes and Building Official Stephen Gilbert had to meet with Youmans last month to discuss how such a hearing would be held.

There are some instances where swift enforcement would preclude using a special magistrate.

"If there is an immediate danger where irreparable harm could be done, such as a propane tank that is leaning over during storm season, then we move to make a correction," Gilbert said

"If I’m out in the field and I see something like that, I get on the phone and tell them they have 24 hours to fix it," Garneau said.

Before making the switch from a code enforcement board to a magistrate, there had been a lull in cases. After McAdam was hired as building official three years ago, he hired Garneau as an assistant. She earned certification as a code enforcement officer and handled numerous complaints, most of which were solved without a hearing. With Gilbert handling building department duties now, the emphasis remains on resolving problems without a hearing.

"We will do out best to make it easy for them to come into compliance," Gilbert said. "Our main goal is to make our city as safe as possible."


Eco-center, performing arts pavilion concept approved

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

BRADENTON BEACH – The city that would house it last week became the final one on Anna Maria Island to approve the concept of a privately funded eco-center and performing arts pavilion.

The two structures would be built in Bradenton Beach and one of the supporters of the concept, designer Emily Anne Smith, said they intended to come to the city first, but the timing was such that the commissions in the other two cities met before the Bradenton Beach Commission.

Bradenton Beach joins Anna Maria and Holmes Beach in giving its approval. The two structures would be built north of the northernmost boat launch at Coquina Park Bayside and south of Leffis Key.

The project, which is estimated to cost more than $5 million, would be financed through private sources and grant money, Smith said. She said the dream began in 1985 with The Legacy III, the group that staged the annual Christmas Preludes in Bradenton Beach. Smith, Lea Ann Bessonette and Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie were the founders of Legacy III.

"We feel it is time to be a part of the rebirth of Coquina Beach," Smith said, referring to the new parking configuration at the beach. Landscape improvements are due soon.

Smith said that there would be ample parking for the project, thanks in good part to the Coquina Beach parking lot plus parking lots near the structures. She spoke of trying to integrate that parking into what the city needs for its business district.

"We are looking at a tram system, somewhat like the ones used at amusement parks to get people from their cars to the parks," she said. "It would possibly run along the new Coquina Beach Trail and it could serve people who would park at the beach and shop in the city."

Smith said once they get the approval from the Island cities, their next target would be the county commission.

"We will bring professionals on board to conduct detailed studies before we bring it to the county," she said.

Chappie pointed out that the concept is in line with the city’s vision and that he did not feel a vote was necessary. Commissioner Bill Shearon said he had some constituents who expressed concerns and he wanted to see more detail in the future.

Bessonette told him to put those concerns in writing and they would make sure to address them.



GSR abandons Island properties

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

BRADENTON BEACH – A Tampa bankruptcy court judge will decide whether Island Vacation Properties will sell the vacant, Gulffront lot that GSR Development planned to turn into Rosa del Mar, one of the few Anna Maria Island properties the company has not abandoned.

GSR has given up its ownership interest in 15 Island properties valued at more than $33.5 million, according to a notice filed in federal bankruptcy court.

The company, headed by principals Robert Byrne and Steven Noriega, is reorganizing under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code. The reorganization plan was approved by the court on July 16.

Sale of the properties is expected to satisfy secured claims against them totaling $23.5 million; the properties’ stated value is $10 million higher.

The partners’ two largest projects were Villa Rosa, designed as a gated, canalfront community with 17 custom single-family homes in Anna Maria, and Rosa del Mar, designed as a 14-unit Gulffront condominium in Bradenton Beach.

GSR has requested that the court approve Island Vacation Properties as the exclusive real estate broker to sell Rosa del Mar. Creditor Horizon Bank has objected, alleging that the purchase price in the listing agreement ($8.85 million) is not enough to satisfy the debt ($8.56 million) and still have enough left to pay Island Vacation Properties’ 6 percent commission.

A model home at Villa Rosa is for sale, but has been transferred from GSR’s ownership to the bank that mortgaged it, said Lynn Parker of previous GSR broker Rosebay Realty.

The abandoned properties in Anna Maria are Villa Rosa Lot 14, 309 South Bay Boulevard, 311 South Bay Boulevard, 401 South Bay Boulevard, 403 South Bay Boulevard, 518 Key Royale Drive, 407-A 74th St. and 208-B 56th St.

The Bradenton Beach properties are a duplex at Fifth Street and Bay Boulevard and 110 Seventh St.

The Holmes Beach properties are 604 Foxworth Lane, 506 74th St., 305 56th St. and 6804 Marina Drive.


Fire budget shows decrease of $500,000 from last year

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH — West Manatee fire commissioners got their first look at the 2007-08 budget last week, and it showed a decrease from $5.8 million in 2006-07 to $5.3 million.

The fire district is not affected by recent tax cuts implemented by the state legislature because its income is from assessment rather than ad valorem taxes. However, it is only allowed to increase assessments by the five-year average of the Florida personal income growth, which this fiscal year is 5.78 percent.

"I am recommending two increases for pay and benefits: a COLA (cost of living adjustment) of 4 percent, effective Oct. 1, and salary adjustment effective Sept. 1," Fire Chief Andy Price said in his budget message to the board. "This salary adjustment is based on the salary study of local area fire districts."

He said the increase in assessments produced an estimated increase in income of $266,321. The total value of property in the district is $7,329,591,367, of which $5,165,437,972 is taxable. There are 19,398 parcels with 43,015,105 square feet of structures.

Price said he increased health costs by 20 percent and dependent coverage costs by 10 percent, but won’t know what those actual costs are until October.

Income in the proposed budget includes $5,070,086 in taxes and fees, $130,000 in interest and $104,500 in reimbursement.

Expenses include $4,320,572 in wages and benefits, $145,000 in maintenance, $60,000 in insurance, $43,000 in training, $12,000 in office expenses, $26,500 in supplies, $118,600 in utilities, $15,000 in fire prevention, $112,500 in capital/replacement, $217,188 in special services, $200,000 in debt service, $34,226 in miscellaneous and $0 in funded liabilities.

There are two restricted funds — the impact fee fund, which only can be used to purchase new equipment, and the Charles Stearns Scholarship Fund in memory of Stearns, who served as a fire commissioner and pension board member. It is estimated that the impact fee fund will be $95,000 by Oct. 1 and the scholarship fund will be $9,900 by Oct. 1.

"The budget is before you," Price told the board. "If at any time you have any questions, get with me before adoption."

Budget adoption is set for Thursday, Aug. 16, at 6 p.m. at Station 1 in Holmes Beach.


"Write a letter to the editor about a story."


<< Go back to Index July 25

AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper