Group calls for earlier bridge closure
HOLMES BEACH – A group of business owners, elected officials and Chamber of Commerce representatives met last week to discuss moving the beginning of the 45-day bridge closure up four weeks, but they were warned that the request most likely came too late.
The Anna Maria Island Bridge closure comes during a $9.1 million rehabilitation project by Quinn Construction, Inc. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) originally wanted to close the bridge for 75 days during April, May and June, but changed it in December 2007 because of massive resistance from the business community on the Island. A majority of them said the closure would cut access to the Island during a traditionally busy period.
Quinn cut the closure to 45 days and moved it to Sept. 29, when many business owners said business is traditionally slowest.
During last week’s meeting, Audrey Clarke, public information officer for PB Americas, Inc., the construction manager, said she would take their requests to FDOT.
"It’s a lot of coordination with other agencies," she said. "I would like to hear what the businesses have to say."
"Our worst month by far is January, but there’s nothing we can do about it," said Dee Schaeffer, concessionaire for the Café on the Beach. "Our next worst month is September and the next after that, it’s October."
"Everyone thought that the closure would be done from early September through half of October," said Waterfront restaurant owner Jason Suzor.
Hurricane Hank’s owner Margaret Hoffman said she also thought the closure would start around the first of September.
"August and September are our slowest months, " said Rotten Ralph’s owner Dave Russell. "To have the bridge close after those two months would be too much for us."
Ed Kern, of Island Vacation Properties, said that business starts to pick up in October.
"October starts to become a busy part of the year, especially for Europeans," he said.
"September is flat," said Lois Gift, manager of Whitney Bank. "We’ve had customers tell us that they won’t be coming back until the bridge project is done."
Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce President Mary Ann Brockman said that having the bridge closure stretch into late October would be too much for businesses. Gail Loghgren, head of the Longboat Key, Lido Key and St. Armands Chamber, agreed.
"A lot of our businesses close in September so when they reopen in October, they need a quick influx of cash," she said.
Ed Chiles, owner of three restaurants on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, was out of the state but he sent a letter saying the closure would better serve everyone if it started just after Labor Day, which is Sept. 1.
Clarke told the businesses to e-mail requests to her so she could forward them to FDOT.