The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 9 No. 16 - January 7, 2009


Weatherman turns tide for AMI
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Shoppers swarmed to the open-air flea market in the field across the
street from Ginny’s and Jane E’s in Anna Maria on New Year’s Day.

Bing Crosby dreamed about a white Christmas in 1942 when he first sang the Irving Berlin song in the movie "Holiday Inn," but merchants on Anna Maria Island are singing the praises of a green Christmas this year, thanks to the weatherman.

"We had warm weather down here and people came over the holidays to get away from the cold weather up north," said Jackie Estes, owner and manager of Paradise Café in Holmes Beach. "It’s a good thing because the first two weeks of December were abysmal."

Estes said that as one of the few restaurants that serves dinner on Christmas, Paradise Café was booming.

"We had people stacked out the door," she said, "I had to bring in my sister, who just retired, and came down here to help take orders, and one of my regular customers who had been in the restaurant business, Cliff, helped out also."

Estes said it was a welcome surprise.

"I had my best Christmas week ever, and I had my best Christmas day ever in the seven years we have been serving on Christmas," she said. "There were a lot of young people here, too. I saw surfers and college kids, who came in for a bite before heading to the beach."

And they were heading for the beach in record numbers, thanks to daytime highs in the 70s and sometimes into the 80s, according to Manatee County lifeguards and EMTs in the tower at Manatee County Beach.

"The weather attracted more people this year and it could be because of the economy," said lifeguard Karl Payne. "People came to the beach because it’s free," "Christmas day was slam-packed," said lifeguard Derek Foss. "Everybody came down to visit family and decided with the warm weather to go for a tan and rub it in to the people who stayed up North."

The rush of people at Manatee County Beach was good news for Café on the Beach.

"It’s been just great," said assistant manager Darlene Weil. "The weather has been beautiful; we have a lot of people from up north. It’s been a wonderful holiday season."

When they weren’t at the beach, the visitors were in shops looking for unique holiday gifts. One of the newest is Color of Coconut in Holmes Beach.

"We did fabulous," said Sarah Gafvert, who works there. "The Island seems very busy and we’re doing great. We’ve been anxious to get into our regular season, and I think our regulars are here."

Normally, the high season doesn’t start until a few weeks into January, but the weatherman seems to have given the merchants a boost. As for the service sector, some businesses are weathering the downturn in the nation’s economy.

"We’re not decreasing the size of our business, in fact we’re about to unveil a new logo and we’re expanding into another form of business," said Trudy Moon, co-owner of Air and Energy. "We’re doing great and we’re sustaining our business."

Moon said one thing to their advantage is the fact that they concentrate on servicing air conditioning and heating systems rather than installing systems into new homes. The new home industry is in a slump due to the mortgage crisis and massive layoffs across the nation.

"We’re not trying to deal with any repercussions like that," she said. "This is an opportunity for us to get out and talk with our customers."

Moon said it is quality, not quantity when it comes to a service industry, "You have to maintain your integrity and keep the trust of the customer," she said. "We’re dealing with a different kind of economy, but I love it. It re-energizes all of us."

National publicity sparks interest in Island

Vacationers longing for a laid-back, old-time Florida beach vacation during the holidays found it on Anna Maria Island, courtesy of USA Today, Baltimore Magazine and the Internet.

"It was more crowded than ever over the holidays," said resort owner David Teitelbaum, whose interview on Bay News 9 on Monday contributed to the media momentum, causing phones to ring persistently at the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce.

"Our business at the resorts has been phenomenal," said Teitelbaum, a Chamber director and member of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council. His resorts, Tradewinds, Tortuga Inn and Seaside, sleep 450 people in 100 units and were full, he said. "It’s the best holiday we’ve ever had."

January reservations are double what they were in January 2008 at Island Real Estate, General Manager Larry Chatt said, adding, "February and March are already up 20 percent from last year."

A recent USA Today article is responsible for a good portion of the last- minute reservations (made within 20 days of a visit) over the holidays, he said.

"In last-minute reservations, we were triple last year," he said.

According to Chamber figures, visitors increased by 311 percent, with new visits up 280 percent and Internet search engine traffic up 240 percent, Teitelbaum said, adding that some of the activity is a direct result of recent news stories.

In its current issue, Baltimore Magazine calls the Island "a mostly unknown strip of paradise" that serves as a hideaway for celebrities Stephen King, Jerry Springer, Maria Sharapova, Graeme Edge and Jimmy Van Zandt.

It’s a great place to escape Tampa’s Super Bowl crowds on Feb. 1 and relax in a beach chair, according to the writer, who recommends the Sandbar, Beach Bistro and Gulf Drive Café for dining and Bridgewalk, Tortuga Inn and Harrington House Bed and Breakfast for accommodations.

Ringling Museum, Bishop Planetarium and St. Armands Circle also get mentions, as do "poky oldsters" forcing vacationers to slow down and relax on the roads – whether they want to or not.

In a Dec. 12 article, USA Today praises what the Island does not have – high-rise condos, chain hotels, fast food burger joints and rowdy, Key West-style sunsets – as much as what it offers.

Shabby chic accommodations full of colorful, Island-style character are featured and recommended, particularly Cedar Cove and Harrington House.

Low motel prices, "funky" stores like Ginny’s and Jane E’s, art galleries, fishing, the free trolley, festivals, beach weddings, dining and herons crossing the road all rate a mention in the story, which drew some of the holiday visitors, Teitelbaum said.

Apparently it’s no contradiction for visitors to do a high-tech search to find a low-tech beach destination.

"Activity on our resort Web sites is tied closely together with activity on the Chamber site," he said.

A search on Monday for "Anna Maria Island" on the Web site calls up the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce Web site in first and second places on page one, with the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Web site on page two.

Combined with the county’s public relations efforts in Germany and the United Kingdom, the Internet Web sites and news articles have created a buzz about the beaches, with January tourism up 20 percent from this time last year, he said.

"I think the fact that we’re a reasonably priced destination is starting to pay off," he said. "They’re slashing rates in Orlando and Miami, but they were overpriced in the first place. We’re value oriented."

The hotelier expects the trend to continue.

"We expect to have a better January than last year, which was a good January," he said.

Chatt agrees that it’s blue skies ahead for Island tourism in 2009.

"Every year there’s a point in time that someone up North turns on the ‘light switch' and the phones here start ringing off the hook," he said. "That occurred on Friday."

To view the stories, visit or

Football winner breaks streak
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/TOM VAUGHT Sun sales associate Chantelle Lewin, left,
congratulates 2008 Football Fever winner Sandy Baldwin as she
receives her cruise tickets from Fantasy Travel’s Ben Mixter,
who provided the grand prize.

Sandy Baldwin said she never won anything before becoming our grand prize winner in the 2008 Anna Maria Island Sun Football Fever Contest. In fact, while she won in the overall standings, she never did win a weekly competition.

Baldwin, who lives in Bradenton, chose the three-day cruise aboard Carnival Cruise Lines to Nassau’s Paradise Island in the Bahamas. She said she would take her sister, Midge Fultz, as her guest.

Her other option would have been a two-night Biloxi package that included round trip airfare, ground transportation to Beau Rivage Vacations destination and a complimentary meal per person each night. Fantasy Travel, of Bradenton, provided the vacation prize.

The grand prize is awarded to the person who chooses the most winners throughout the 17 weeks of the contest. In fact, Baldwin only got five picks correct the next to last week, but her overall average out of the 15 picks she made each week was more than 10 correct. In fact, only two people in the top 13 scorers won a weekly contest. That means that you need to keep playing, even if you don’t win a weekly contest.

The prizes for the weekly winners were a $25 gift certificate from Via Italia Ristorante Italiano, a movie rental from AMI Video, lunch for two from the Gulf Drive Café, a T-shirt from Rotten Ralph’s and $50 and a T-shirt from The Sun.

If you were a winner, congratulations. If you never played, get ready for Football Fever 2009 starting next season.

Football Fever Final Standings

Sandy Baldwin 173 points
Diane Vestrand 169 points
Scott Makela 166 points
Jerome Potvin 165 points
Kathy Wolford 165 points
Paul Beever Jr 164 points
Maria Dupee 156 points
Faino Blevins 155 points
Tyler Branscombe 155 points
Kandi Kerekes 155 points
William K. Smith 155 points
Alan Szakacs 155 points
Kevin Wicks 155 points

Code officer says parking is the issue
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/LAURIE KROSNEY Mark Alonso’s rickshaw is hung with signs
supporting the businesses of friends. Alonso, who makes no money on
the signage, has run afoul of city ordinances and has been cited
with a code violation.

ANNA MARIA — Mark Alonso is well-known throughout the community as an exuberant, friendly man who loves riding around on his three-wheeled bicycle/rickshaw.

The 81-year-old can be seen just about any day of the week riding the colorful contraption from a friend’s house to a coffee shop to an ice cream parlor and back home again.

Affixed to the bike are any number of signs sporting funny sayings such as "Eat here and keep us all from starving, Rudy’s, 9906 Gulf Drive."

"Mark was the third person we met here, and he had the sign made for us as a surprise," said Julie Quinlivan, one of the owners of Rudy’s, the new sub shop featured in Alonso’s sign. "We were so touched by the friendly gesture."

But that friendly gesture caused Alonso to run afoul of city codes after someone made an anonymous complaint to the city about business signs on a bicycle.

Alonso got a citation letter from the city’s code enforcement officer, Gerry Rathvon, stating that he should "remove all signage from your bicycle that pertains to businesses in the city."

Rathvon’s job is reactive. She’s required to respond to all code complaints and to enforce the codes regardless of who complains or who is cited.

"I have to be even-handed," she said. "I can’t go by the individual; I have to go strictly by the code."

The letter cited the ordinance governing signs, highlighting Section 98-5 Use of vehicles for advertising which states: "No person shall operate or park any vehicles or trailer on a public right of way or public property so as to be visible from a public right of way, which has attached thereto or located thereon any signs or advertising devices for the primary purpose of advertising products or directing people to a business or activity located on the same or nearby property or any other premises."

The next section of the code states that there’s no prohibition of a sign attached to a bus or lettered on a motor vehicle unless the primary purpose of the vehicle is advertising.

This later wording exempts such vehicles as a plumber’s service truck parked in the right of way servicing a customer, for example.

"Mark’s primary mode of transportation is that rickshaw or his other bike," Quinlivan said. "He uses it for transportation. It’s not primarily for advertising. It’s primarily for getting him around. I see it as a free speech issue. He should be able to say what he wants on his signs on his transportation."

Rathvon, who is required to respond to complaints about code violations, sees the issue not as one of free speech, but one of parking.

"He can have the signs on his bicycle," she said. "He just can’t park on the public right of way. The signs are OK if he parks on private property."

Alonso and his rickshaw signs have become something of a local celebrity of late.

"Bay News 9 was out here filming Mark and the rickshaw for a half hour the other day," Quinlivan said. "People were honking and afterwards, about a dozen people came into the shop to see what this was all about. Everyone supports Mark."

Alonso’s rickshaw has long sported signs. During elections, he always carries signs supporting his candidates. One year, he had his candidate sign rigged up to rotate as he drove his rickshaw around town.

Other signs on his vehicle read "Anna Maria, help is on the way," and "Honk if you like peace and quiet." There is also a sign for Green Real Estate.

Alonso, who now has two different pedal-propelled vehicles, has begun placing signs on his newest one.

"The rickshaw is too hard for me to ride some days," Alonso said.

So he had it parked at Rudy’s, on the property itself, not on the right of way. Then he drove around town in his other vehicle, pulled up across from the sub shop and parked in the right of way across the street.

"I’m taking this as far as I need to," he said, "This is America. We have free speech here."

Gloria Dei history spans 50 years
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

distinctive roof of the church includes beams of Douglas fir
from Portland, Ore. Some were up to 85 feet long.

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, 6608 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, began in the mid-1950s, when a few Lutherans living on Anna Maria Island dreamed and hoped for a church of their own.

The closest Lutheran church on the mainland was too far away to keep children interested, so they attended the Island churches of their friends. There was no bus service and even though two new bridges eliminated a scary ride on rickety planks, the 30-cent toll was a barrier, and the price of land was going up every day.

On Oct. 24, 1957, the Island Missionary Society sent a letter to Pastor Donald Hauser, executive director of the Board of American Missions of the United Lutheran Church in America. The board responded positively, and Pastor Frank E. Lyerly began as mission developer May 1, 1958.

The first worship service was Aug. 3, 1958, with 75 present. On Feb. 1, 1959, Gloria Dei became a congregation of the United Lutheran Church of America. Pastor Lyerly was called to be the first pastor and he accepted.

The faithful were renting Annie Silver Community Center in Bradenton Beach, but that soon proved inadequate. In the warmer months, it was unbearably hot, and the church was not able to hold services and get-togethers on occasions when other groups were holding their meetings. Also, the congregation was growing and on many Sundays, the hall filled to capacity for both services.

In October 1960, the congregation unanimously voted to erect the new church, raised the first $47,000 and purchased three acres of land. Victor Lundy, of Sarasota, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, was chosen as the architect. Ground was broken Aug. 20, 1961.

On Jan. 5, 1962, the church's laminated beams of Douglas fir arrived from Portland, Ore. Some were up to 85 feet long. They had been hauled on a on a circuitous route to avoid low underpasses and other obstructions. The first worship service in the new building was May 13, 1962.

Pastor Lester M. Utz was called to be the church's second pastor beginning Jan. 1, 1964. Pastor Franklyn S. Lambert was called and became the church's third pastor on May 31, 1967.

In its original construction, the roof had three long ribbons of frosted glass that bathed the pulpit, the pews, and the altar in sunlight. The effect was stunning, but the glass sections leaked and caused the timbers to rot and often the sanctuary was flooded, so the glass was replaced.

About the same time, Gloria Dei obtained its suspended cross that hangs above the altar. It is a 10-foot Christ The King carved from lemon wood. In April 1969, the 14-foot gilded fiberglass cross atop the roof was installed.

Pastor Lyerly began his second term of ministry on July 11, 1974. As the parish grew, so did the need for the new additions. Ground was broken on May 17, 1987, and the new space was dedicated on April 10, 1988.

In September 1989, the Wicks pipe organ was increased from four ranks of 284 pipes to eight ranks of 590 pipes. A solid-state relay replaced the old, phosphor bronze switch stack, while the console was moved to its present location behind the free-standing altar.

Pastor Danith L. Kilts was called and installed as the church's fourth pastor on April 18, 1993, and Pastor Rosemary W. Backer was called and installed as the church’s fifth pastor on Nov. 12, 2006.

Pipeline path change proposed

ANNA MARIA – In response to concerns from governmental agencies, environmental groups and others, Port Dolphin has rerouted its proposed underwater natural gas pipeline away from the north end of Anna Maria Island.

The pipeline was slated to be built through underwater sand reserves off Bean Point, disturbing fine, white sand used for beach renourishment on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key in both a permitted sand reserve area and a potential new sand source.

The new route curves the pipeline north, away from the reserves, according to documents filed by Houston-based Port Dolphin Energy LLC in its deepwater port application to the U.S. Maritime Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard.

The new pipeline would parallel and cross over the existing Gulfstream Natural Gas Systems pipeline, and also parallels the northern border of the Terra Ceia Aquatic Preserve and the southern border of the Pinellas County Aquatic Preserve on its way to Port Manatee, where it would come ashore and connect to power plant pipelines.

Last May, when they learned of the proposal, Manatee County and Longboat Key officials estimated that Port Dolphin’s original pipeline route would have cost Manatee County $38 million to $53 million over the next 40 years, or around $1 million per year, to find new sand sources. It would have cost Longboat Key an estimated $4 million over the same time frame, according to the estimates.

The following month, the Coast Guard, the first of several agencies to review the proposal for approval, suspended Port Dolphin’s application.

"After concerns were raised by communities about the pipeline going through areas used for sand restoration, (Port Dolphin) reconfigured the pipeline route" after completing marine survey work this winter, Coast Guard spokesman Mark Prescott said.

The surveys, which required local commercial fishermen to move their stone crab traps in November, analyze potential impacts of both the construction and operation of the pipeline on marine resources.

The Coast Guard will use the information to revise its April 2008 Environmental Impact Statement on the project, which could take several months, Prescott said.

Port Dolphin officials were not available for comment.

The proposed Port Dolphin Energy Liquefied Natural Gas Deepwater Port would consist of two submersible mooring buoys about three miles apart, 28 miles west of Anna Maria Island in 100 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico.

Tankers would convert their cargoes of liquid natural gas into vaporized natural gas at the floating port. The gas would then be pumped into the proposed pipeline, which would come ashore at Port Manatee.

The Manatee County Commission, which also sits as the Manatee County Port Authority, will be among several agencies reviewing the proposal, including the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Department of Transportation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of the Interior’s Mineral Management Service and the Florida Coastal Management Program.

While Port Dolphin would not be visible from shore, according to the company, some regulatory agencies and others have warned that its impact will be noticeable.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, ManaSota-88, local, state and federal elected officials and private citizens were among those who expressed concerns about the project last year. Some of those concerns included increased beach renourishment costs, fire hazards, gas spills and impacts on fish, sea turtles and marine mammals.

Gulfstream Natural Gas Systems also objected to Port Dolphin’s pipeline, saying the newcomer would have an unfair competitive advantage because it would be a private pipeline, while Gulfstream’s pipeline is an open access pipeline.

Public hearings will be scheduled on the proposed Port Dolphin project later this year, according to the Coast Guard.

$5,000 reward offered in missing woman case

HOLMES BEACH - The Gold Star Club of Manatee County is offering a $5,000 reward for information on the location of missing Haley’s Motel co-owner Sabine Musil-Buehler, or information leading to whoever is responsible for her disappearance.

Musil-Buehler, 49, was last seen by her boyfriend, William Cumber, 39, after they argued on Nov. 4, according to a statement Cumber made to police.

The missing woman is separated from her husband and business partner, Tom Buehler, with whom she owns Haley’s Motel, 8104 Gulf Drive in Holmes Beach.

Cumber, an arsonist convicted of setting fire to his ex-girlfriend’s house, has been questioned in both Musil-Buehler’s disappearance and in the Nov. 16 fire of a duplex at Haley’s. Cumber told The Sun last month that he has no idea where his missing girlfriend is, had nothing to do with her disappearance and is being framed.

He has since been arrested on traffic charges in Marion County and is expected to face violation of probation charges in Manatee County, where the arson was committed.

Investigators discovered Musil-Buehler’s blood in her car, which had been stolen by Robert Corona, whom authorities arrested for theft but do not suspect in her disappearance, according to Dave Bristow of the Sheriff’s Office.

The investigations into the possible homicide and arson are continuing.

"We are all hopeful that this reward will attract the clues and community participation needed to solve this mystery," said Island resident Kent Davis, who has supported the Gold Star Club with his wife, Pa, since 2000. "This is a big step for the club and very positive for the investigation."

The Gold Star Club was founded at the request of former Manatee County Sheriff Charles Wells and is funded by member contributions and an annual fund-raising event. Its purpose is to support law enforcement agencies by offering large rewards to facilitate the arrest and conviction of criminals who commit serious crimes in Manatee County, primarily murders and crimes against children. The club’s president is Manatee County Commissioner Ron Getman.

Another reward fund for Musil-Buehler has been established at Whitney Bank in Holmes Beach, but the bank declined to disclose its founder or how much has been raised.

Flood insurance meeting Jan. 15

Anna Maria residents with questions about their flood insurance and the new rules can now find out what they need to know.

The city is hosting an informal meeting on Thursday, Jan. 15 from 3 to 7 p.m. at city hall.

Experts will be on hand to discuss issues one-on-one with property owners in the city.

"We’d like to hear from anyone who has received their flood insurance policy and it’s gone up," said Building Official Bob Welch. "Also anyone who has gotten a letter from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and anyone who experiences flash floods from the rain."

In some cases, houses that were built to code several years ago don’t meet the new codes. Insurance rates are going up in those instances because NFIP has mandated that some structures be brought up to those current codes.

For example, if a home was built in the early-to-mid 1990s, it was probably constructed with breakaway walls. Current codes require flow through vents. Something as simple as adding the vents on the ground floor could result in a 26 percent reduction in flood insurance premiums, according to Welch.

The building official said people who have standing water in their yards after a rain might also benefit from talking to officials.

"We want to assess how well the new drainage systems are working," he said.

The city would also like people to send back the flood questionnaires sent out in late December. They can also be returned at the informal meeting.

The questionnaire and the meeting are part of the city’s efforts to maintain the flood insurance rate reduction, which was granted recently.

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