The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 8 No. 51 - September 10, 2008


Shells closes Island restaurant
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/PAT COPELAND Some Shells employees learned of the closing
after reading this sign on the front door.

HOLMES BEACH – When Mary Ann Speciale and Andrea Smith, from Hair’s to You salon, walked to Shells for lunch Wednesday, they were shocked to find the restaurant closed and a sign on the door announcing the closing.

"We were so disappointed," Speciale said. "We ate there a couple times a week. They recently remodeled it and it was really pretty. I don’t think the employees knew it was coming."

Shells abruptly closed eight of its 18 restaurants in Florida Wednesday, including the one on the Island in Holmes Beach.

The announcement came without any advance notice to employees, according to workers at the Holmes Beach location.

A statement from the company’s corporate headquarters in Tampa said, "Shells Seafood Restaurants announced that it has filed a voluntary petition for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Shells owns 18 restaurants with a partial interest in two additional restaurants, but today closed operations at eight locations."

In addition to the Island location, the company closed restaurants in Ocala, Winter Park, Orlando, Kissimmee, Winter Haven, St. Petersburg and Ft. Myers. The 10 remaining restaurants will continue to operate.

Disappointed and saddened employees said Friday they had been told that afternoon by management to come to the Holmes Beach restaurant to collect their final paychecks.

When they got there, however, they were told that the checks were being mailed to them and that they should arrive by next Friday. They also were told not to talk to the media and, as they arrived, were quickly ushered inside by management, who locked the front door behind them.

However, many in the group met later at the Anchor Inn bar to talk over the situation and say their last farewells to one another.

"Most of us are still in shock about the whole thing because we had become the number one store in the chain," said server Brian Huffman. "We are like a family here. I was in tears most of Wednesday."

Another server, who identified herself as Kathy, said she learned of the closing when she showed up in uniform for work Wednesday and read the sign on the door.

"I guess I’m one of the lucky ones," she said, "because I have another job."

One employee said she is scrambling to find employment.

"This is the worst time of year to find a job around here," said Shea, a single mother of two. "Nobody wants to hire you in the off season."

Shells Chief Executive Officer Marc Bernstein said in the company’s statement that the struggling economy played a role in the closings.

"The restaurant industry has been negatively affected by the economic downturn, as recently reflected by the closings of Bennigan’s and Steak and Ale restaurant chains," Bernstein said. "This downturn has affected some of the marginal stores operated by Shells and necessitated the Chapter 11 filings and store closings.

"The ten remaining restaurants have the strongest historical performance or the greatest potential for the future. It is our goal to emerge from Chapter 11 as soon as we can with a capital structure and a balance sheet that will allow us to continue to operate."

Reaction to the closing among former patrons of the restaurant was uniformly one of surprise.

"We were really sad when we heard the news," said Margie Motzer, a Shells regular with her husband, Dick. "We loved the staff and the new menu. They had the best clam chowder on the Island.

"I don’t like losing another restaurant on the Island," she added.

Jim Archer, of Bradenton Beach, said his family dined at the Holmes Beach Shells a couple of days before it closed.

"I heard the report of the closing on the news," he said. "I was surprised. When we ate there the people were nice, the place was clean and the food was decent."

AMI Chamber of Commerce Director Mary Ann Brockman said, "I was pretty much taken aback. I feel sorry for people who had jobs there. I think it was a corporate issue. They overdid it. It’s very unfortunate that it happened."

Key Royale Golf Club to help Bridge the Gap

HOLMES BEACH – For the first time in its modern history, the Island’s only golf course is opening its links to the public for the Family Golf Tournament to be held on Saturday, Nov. 15, at the Key Royale Golf Club.

Registration starts at 11 a.m. and the tournament begins at noon with a shotgun start and it is open to all players, including junior 10 years or older, who possess their own clubs. The tournament is limited to the first 72 players to register. Enjoy the newly restored greens that were replaced by a premium type of grass over the summer.

Eighteen teams with a minimum of one adult per team will compete. The rules are teams must use the drive of each player at least twice and each golfer will hit all shots after selection.

There will be prizes for first, second and third place teams using the gross score. There will be prizes for adult longest drive numbers on the fifth and ninth holes (must be in the fairway). The players closest to the pin on the third and seventh holes will win prizes. There will be putting contests for juniors 10-18 and adults. The junior with the longest drive on the first hole after the tournament will also win a prize. Prizes will be awarded following the tournament.

Key Royale is a nine-hole, par 32, 2,006 yard walking course. Pull carts are permitted and a limited number are available at the course for $2.50. The tournament entry fee is $18.

There will be optional games of chance. The cost for the putting contest is $1. There will be a 50/50 raffle drawing. One ticket is $1, six tickets are $5 and 12 tickets cost $10.

Lunch will be served from 11 a.m. to tee time. Other food and beverages will be available at the club before and after the tournament. You can use Master Card, Via or Discovery to pay.

Each player will receive a gift bag including a sleeve of two Bridgestone golf balls provided by Bridgestone.

Key Royale Club, Inc., is staffing the event and will donate all tournament fees, putting contest and 50/50 proceeds to the Anna Maria Island Community Center for the newly created Bud Stokes Junior Golf Program.

Registration forms are available at The Sun, 9801 Gulf Drive, Anna Maria; the AMI Chamber of Commerce, 5313 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach; the AMI Community Center, 407 Magnolia, Anna Maria; and the Key Royale Golf Club, 700 Key Royale Drive.

All applications must be submitted to the Community Center or Key Royale Club by Wednesday, Nov. 12, at noon with the entry fee attached, payable to Key Royale Club, Inc.

For more information, call Tom Tollette at 779-1888 or Terry Schaefer at 779-1272.

Bridging the Gap Events

• Bayfest and music festivals, Cindy Thompson, 761-4766
• Progressive Realtor open house, Sandy Rich, 778-0426
• Dog costume contest, The Sun newspaper, 778-3986
• Skim Board Bash, Ronee Brady, 778-1001
• ArtsHOP weekend, Joyce Karp, 778-2099
• Fishing tournament, Jake Spooner and Dana Snell, 778-3400
• Mini-golf tournament, Jake Spooner and Dana Snell, 778-3400
• Trolley scavenger hunt, Linda Haack, 779-2545, ext. 1130, and Caryn Hodge, 778-8705
• All Island golf tournament, Tom Tollette, 779-1888
• Motorcycle run, Laura McAdams, 792-6366
• Open air market, Ginny Dutton, 778-7370
• Concert in the Park, Mark Kimball, 518-6329 and Steve Bark, 720-3200
• Haleyween party, Sabine Musil, 778-5405
• Pickleball, Robert Taylor, 778-6465
• Wing Ding and karaoke contest, Ed Lyon, 201-5436.
• Softball tournament, Jeff Levine, 744-6883.
• Kayak tournament, Lauren Sato, 352-514-6545.
• Pot luck dinner and movie, AMI Community Center, Sandy Pruett, 778-1908.
• Bridge Street Market, Nancy Ambrose, 518-4431.
• Concert in the Green, Sandee Pruett, 778-1908.

Click to view Adobe PDF of Calendar of Events Click to download the Adobe Free Reader

FBI queries Island cities on GSR

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has requested records from all three Anna Maria Island cities on GSR Development Inc., city officials confirmed on Friday.

The Bradenton-based land development company, whose principals were Paul Galizzi ("G"), Steven Noriega ("S") and Robert Byrne ("R") according to court documents, filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code two years ago.

The FBI requested the documents a month after seven complaints were filed in Tampa federal bankruptcy court in July claiming that more than $1 million in GSR assets was fraudulently transferred to company principals or their corporations, among others, and should be repaid for the benefit of GSR creditors.

According to bankruptcy court records, 151 claims have been filed against GSR totaling $4.67 million, about a quarter of them unsecured.

"They wanted any document we could find regarding GSR," Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford said, adding that the broad request probably was meant to avoid misinterpretation over what to include.

GSR, formerly one of the largest property owners on the Island, left one of its two largest projects incomplete in Anna Maria – Villa Rosa was planned as a gated canalfront community.

"It’s long overdue," Barford said, adding that city officials have gathered plat maps, designs, email chains and other documents to comply with the Aug. 11 request. "They’ve got to resolve this."

"They’re trying to get information to clear up GSR problems," said Mayor Michael Pierce of Bradenton Beach, where GSR left its other major incomplete project, the still-vacant Gulf front lot in the 2500 block of Gulf Drive that was to become Rosa del Mar condominiums.

City officials have gathered two file boxes of documents for the FBI, including permits and correspondence, according to City Clerk Nora Idso.

Holmes Beach also is gathering documents, Mayor Rich Bohnenberger said, adding that the city’s dealings with GSR are primarily code enforcement issues on abandoned individual properties.

A Tampa FBI special agent in charge of public information did not respond by press time to a request for comment on the case.

Veterans memorial plan revived

BRADENTON BEACH – When a proposed cell phone tower for Longboat Key died, it gave birth to a proposed tower south of Bradenton Beach and rebirth to a proposed veteran’s memorial at the same spot.

Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore is the motivating force behind the idea.

"I want to put the cell tower on the mound in Coquina Park Bayside, where it was proposed in 2001," Whitmore said. "The money the county receives from the would would receive from the cell tower owner would pay for its maintenance."

Whitmore met with Bradenton Beach Mayor Michael Pierce and Manatee County Public Safety Director Karen Windon last Wednesday to discuss the possibility.

"We’ve already had two vendors contact us," she said. "I will wait to see what the Bradenton Beach City Commission wants to do before I take it to the county commission."

The proposal came up in 2000 when a group of veterans asked to place a flagpole at the top of the small hill inside Leffis Key. While the idea wound through the city and county governments, the local Audubon Society protested, saying Leffis Key is a bird sanctuary and they feared the noise from the flag’s lanyard hitting the pole would scare away birds. The county agreed and drew up plans for a new memorial on a mound south of Leffis Key with a paved parking lot and a permanently placed, lighted flag.

The Veterans Council of Manatee County, led by Navy veteran and former Bradenton Beach City Councilman Jim Kissick, protested, saying they had only wanted a simple site from which to display the flag during ceremonies. Their protest killed that plan.

"A few months ago, the Veterans Council voted to make the monument a dead issue," he said. "They don’t want to get involved again."

Kissick said he is ready to lead the charge against this latest attempt. He recalls how then-county administrator Ernie Padgett called him to meet at the Leffis Key site and then showed him a new site they had picked out.

"He told me, ‘To compensate you, we will build the veterans monument site here,’" Kissick said. "I’ll never forget his use of the word compensate, and my answer was, ‘Not no, but hell no.’"

Kissick said if they proceed with plans to place it where they say, he will oppose it.

"If they do, it would be the most disgraceful thing they could do to the veterans of this county," he said. "It would be their buyout for stabbing us in the back to give in to the Audubon people."

Kissick said the Audubon people used false information to claim that the flag would upset migrating birds.

"The birds they claim would land there actually migrate up and down the east coast of Florida, not the west coast," he said. "They spotted one of those birds after a strong storm blew in from the east and never saw another one."

Whitmore said with or without Kissick’s support, the county would follow through with plans to combine a cell phone tower and a flag to honor the county’s veterans.

Commissioner meets VP candidate
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/CINDY LANE Holmes Beach Commissioner David Zaccagnino,
right, was invited to a Sarasota rally on Wednesday for
Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Joseph Biden, left.

"With liberty and justice for all" echoed through the Booker High School gym in Sarasota, where Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Joseph Biden spoke on Wednesday.

With bleachers bulging and people with umbrellas lined up outside in the heat, the scene resembled a smaller version of the Democratic National Convention, lacking only balloons, confetti and Barack Obama.

Holmes Beach Commissioner David Zaccagnino was invited to the rally, and was pleased to find that Biden’s thinking lined up with his own on one issue in particular.

When Biden was asked about what Democratic tax increases would mean for wealthy Americans, he responded, "It’s time to be patriotic."

It was nearly the same answer Zaccagnino gave when asked a similar question recently, said the financial advisor with Morgan Stanley in Bradenton.

"I said, ‘They just need to pay their fair share.’ "

Zaccagnino was among those who briefly met Biden after the rally. Holmes Beach Commissioner Pat Morton and Beach Bistro owner Sean Murphy also attended the event, which was held at the high school that American Idol star Syesha attended, a fact that scored applause when recognized by Biden.

The senator from Delaware covered topics ranging from his proudest accomplishment, the Violence Against Women Act, to his support for tax credits for parents sending their kids to college, mostly focusing on everyday concerns like mortgages, insurance, taxes and gas prices.

"This country has been built by the middle class, and the middle class is under siege," he said. "There’s never been an election more consequential."

Sentencing hearing set for Koenigs

Manatee County Circuit Court Judge Diana Moreland has scheduled a sentencing hearing for Mark Koenigs on Wednesday, Oct. 1, at 2:30 p.m.

Koenigs was convicted on Aug. 8 of shooting Holmes Beach businesswoman Sue Normand at her office, Island Mail and More, as she waited on him on Dec. 5, 2007. A jury found him guilty of one count of aggravated battery with a firearm and two counts of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer with a firearm. He could get life in prison.

After the conviction, Normand said she was pleased because she felt it would take Koenigs off the street for a long time.

Koenigs, who sat in a wheelchair during the trial and did not testify on his behalf, has not spoken to law enforcement or the press since he was captured in Bradenton Beach. Koenigs ran from the store after shooting Normand and went to south on the beach until a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office helicopter spotted him just south of Bridge Street on the beach. Two sheriff’s deputies came up to him with their pistols drawn and told him to take his hand out of his pocket. When he finally complied, he was holding the small pistol he used to shoot Normand. He ignored numerous commands to drop the pistol and when he made a move that deputies interpreted as possibly preparing to shoot at them, they opened fire, hitting him three times. He was treated at the hospital following his arrest.

Normand, meanwhile, needed help from her family and community to keep her business going and to pay for medical bills that ran up quickly because she had no health insurance. She needed to use a wheelchair and a walker and could not get into her elevated house following the shooting. She was able later to install an elevator and move back into her house.

Internet check scam returns

ANNA MARIA – An alert rental agent put an end to an attempted check scam involving an Internet inquiry.

According to a complaint filed with the Manatee County Sheriff’s office by Betsy Hills Rental Manager Alicia Conover, a man identifying himself as Harry Johnson from England negotiated with her to rent a property for a month for $7,141. He sent a cashier’s check for $13,697.32 and asked that she send the balance to a rental agent in New York via Western Union. Conover realized it was a scam and did not complete the transaction.

"People need to know that when somebody sends a check for more than what is due and asks you to send the balance back, it’s a scam," Manatee Sheriff’s Office Sgt. John Kenney said. "If it happens to you, don’t send them anything and call authorities."

Kenney said the check they send the intended victim is more likely than not a forged one and your bank won’t honor it.

Earlier this year, the same scam was attempted against a restaurant in Holmes Beach when a man ordered a lot of sandwiches for a business lunch and paid with a check made out for more than the bill. That con man was later captured and arrested. A rental property owner on the Island also reported an attempt this year, which he averted when he took the check to his bank and found out it was forged before sending the scam artist the balance.

Kenney said rental agents who deal with customers over the Internet and via long distance should be aware of the scam.

Another GSR land dispute arises

ANNA MARIA — Pieces of the house of cards that GSR built keep fluttering to earth, and one of them landed on the city’s planning and zoning board agenda.

The attorney for Horizon Bank asked the board to approve a vacation of a 50 by 100-foot piece of property just north of the brick Villa Rosa entrance road.

"We held a first mortgage on the whole front portion (of Villa Rosa) where the road went in," Horizon Bank President Charles Conoley told members of the P&Z board at their Sept. 3 meeting.

Conoley said his bank had acquired title to the half of the entrance parcel in a foreclosure action against GSR, a development company that has been embroiled in bankruptcy action and litigation for more than two years.

But the entrance road into the never-built Villa Rosa subdivision is on the parcel that Conoley says Horizon Bank now owns. As a result, the piece contains only 4,000 square feet, and thus is not a buildable lot under city codes.

"We’re asking the city to vacate the adjacent platted lot that was designated for the future end of Palm Avenue," Horizon Bank’s Attorney Phillip Perrey told the board.

Perrey noted that Palm Avenue will never be extended through there, and vacating the parcel would give his client a buildable lot, which in turn would generate tax revenue for the city.

Perrey and Conoley offered to stipulate that the city could have drainage and utility easements on the property.

It appears, however, that the title to the property is contested.

"My client is involved in a very complicated lawsuit over this property," said Thomas Fitzgibbons, an attorney representing Bono Enterprises, LLC. "There are errors in every transaction involving this property. The title company blew the mortgage. This is complex litigation."

Fitzgibbons said that Bono Enterprises has also foreclosed on the contested lot.

Perrey countered that the bank absolutely owns the lot as the first mortgage holder. He also says the city should never have approved the Villa Rosa site plan, because Horizon Bank, as the lien holder, did not approve the plat map.

"There’s a space right on the map where the lien holder is supposed to sign before you record it," Perrey said. "My client never signed it."

Diana Earnest, the mapping supervisor at the Manatee County Property Appraiser’s office, confirmed that no lien holder had signed the plat map.

"But that doesn’t mean it’s not legal," she said. "There are certain requirements, and we check to make sure they are fulfilled. We talk to the applicant, make sure they understand their legal responsibilities and we file the plat map."

Earnest said employees in her office are not legal experts, and if there is a question or challenge to ownership, it’s up to the courts to resolve.

City Planner Alan Garrett advised the board that the city did not create the non-buildable lot.

"There is an issue as to ownership of the land, which is part of the platting of Villa Rosa," Garrett said. "It is Mr. (City Attorney Jim) Dye’s opinion that this is a property dispute between two owners. The applicant has a right to request the vacation. The ownership of the land is not under discussion this evening."

After the discussion and public comment, the board voted 6-0 to recommend against granting the vacation request. The planning and zoning board is a recommending body, and the final decision rests with the city commission.

Both Perrey and Conoley said they would take the vacation request to the city commission, probably sometime in October or November.

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