The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 9 No. 41 - July 1, 2009


SIGNS of life
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/CHANTELLE LEWIN Foreclosure proceedings on the
Beach Inn in Holmes Beach began on April 30.

One person’s good fortune may come from another’s bad luck. Those in the real estate industry say the bad news scenario right now is the fact that home prices have reached an all-time low. On the other hand, that’s the good news for real estate buyers.

According to a newsletter published online by Island Real Estate Agent Al Galletto, from Jan. 1 to May 31, the average price of a single-family home sold on the Island dropped from $817,102 in 2008 to $567,477 in 2009, and the median price of a single-family home dropped from $625,000 in 2008 to $450,000 this year.

Bad news for sellers, but great news for buyers.

Galletto’s newsletter says that property sales on the Island for the month of May were above average with 23 (11 single-family, 10 condos and two duplexes), although a little less than a year earlier, when 27 properties (14 single-family, nine condos, three duplexes and one lot) sold. His figures are based on reports through the Multi-Listing Service.

The good news for sellers is that 50 properties are under contract and the inventory of homes for sale is dropping. Galletto said the levels of inventory are the lowest since the fourth quarter of 2005, just before the last real estate boom came to an end. With those forces at work, the price of real estate just might turn upward in the near future, he said.

"Prices right now are down 30 to 40 percent, with waterfront prices down less than that," Galletto said. "I feel we’re pretty much at the bottom."

Betsy Hills Real Estate owner and broker Betsy Hills has been working on the Island for more than 30 years, and she says certain properties are selling well.

"We’ve seen a bounce in homes costing $600,000 and under," she said. "The homes that are selling are the ones that are priced competitively."

Hills said she has more contracts pending than she’s seen in a while and the financing is there. She said distressed properties, those that are selling for less than what is owed on them, are rare on the Island compared to the mainland.

"Sellers are bringing money to the closing to make up the difference, except on the Island," she said.

"I definitely think that interest is picking up," said Darcie Duncan, owner of Duncan Real Estate in Anna Maria. "Consumer confidence is coming back."

Duncan said that a lot of the people who are buying tell her that they think prices are reaching bottom.

"They think it is a golden opportunity since inventories are still high and interest rates are low," she said.

Nicole Skaggs, of A Paradise Realty, said she is twice as busy as she has been in the past.

"I am seeing investors going, ‘So what if its hasn’t bottomed out, it’s so close it doesn’t matter,’" she said. "Some of them follow the advice of Warren Buffett who says, ‘If there’s fear, be greedy.’"

Skaggs said she’s seeing more cash sales and she feels more people will start coming back to real estate as an investment.

"If you’re starting from the bottom, you should buy now, rent it out and take your vacation there for free," she said. "You can depreciate your taxes and write off your vacation because you’ll be maintaining your investment."

All in all, the real estate professionals on the Island say that if you’re planning to wait a year to purchase a home or investment, the common school of thought is that you’ll be paying more than you should by then.

"Purchasing Island property is always a win-win," Galletto said, "Now is the time to buy and we’re still a good investment."

"I feel we’re much safer than the stock market," Hills said.

"Most people who wait for the market to bottom out, get into the market when it’s too late," Duncan added.

"Real estate is cyclical and it is historical," Skaggs said, "When you look at the Rockefellers and the Carnegies, they bought property when times were bad and they emerged better than the others."

Tidemark project has new owners
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

PROVIDED BY EMILY ANNE SMITH This rendering depicts the
original design for the Tidemark Lodge, which was based on
the historic Rod and Gun Club in Everglades City.

HOLMES BEACH – Mainsail Development, of Tampa, hopes to breathe life into the stalled Tidemark and Beach Inn projects with the help of Pine Avenue Restoration (PAR).

The company purchased the stalled projects, which were in foreclosure, last week and took on the Island-based PAR group as a limited partner.

"Fundamentally, the correction occurred in the marketplace to make it happen." said Joe Collier, president of Mainsail. "We closed on the properties June 24, and part of our limited partnership is PAR, which jumped on board as an investor," "Ed Chiles has a great passion for the Island. It’s a great destination, and we can’t ruin the quaintness because that’s what people come for. We have embraced the Anna Maria concept."

In addition to Chiles, PAR includes Micheal Coleman, Mike and Lizzie Thrasher and Ted LaRoche.

"We think it’s synergistic to have another project on the Island that will be adopting the same themes as PAR," Coleman said. "It’s a meeting of like minds. It shouldn’t be cookie cutter. It should be reflective of the Island."

‘We’re excited to work with Joe," Chiles added. "He’s an excellent operator who has embraced local ownership and input. He likes what we did on Pine Avenue. It reflects the Island character and sense of place with the native landscaping, green buildings and historical design."

Chiles explained that Mainsail is the general partner in charge of making the decisions, while PAR, as a limited partner, "are the local guys working with them to create a great project."

The two projects include the proposed Tidemark residences and marina at 5325 Marina Drive and the Beach Inn at 101 66th Street. The combined projects include beach and marina residences plus a 62-slip marina with boats and fishing guides and a lodge with a restaurant and lounge.

The Beach Inn units were being sold by the former owner, Reliance Realty Partners, as fractional ownership, a form of real estate in which the buyer purchases a fraction of ownership. However, during the season, the 12 units in the two completed buildings were converted from sales to rentals.

"We will ramp up marketing for the Beach Inn, make the marina look better and officially open it," Collier explained. "The Beach Inn will no longer be fractional. We will be selling the units as a modified condo/hotel. When the owner is not using a unit, it will be a hotel rental."

The new partnership could salvage Tidemark, which was started eight years ago by developer Nick Easterling but never got off the ground. Easterling filed for bankruptcy in 2004.

But the Old Florida design of the project caught the imagination of many on the Island, and Collier said the company plans to use the current Tidemark site plan for the residences and lodge.

"It has nice feel to it. The good pieces of what they did before are great. We’ll use the plans for the lodge and add more old Florida elements, if needed. It will probably take us the better part of a year to get it off the ground."

Mainsail brought its managers and key personnel to the Island for a trolley tour last week.

"It’s important for everyone to understand what Island residents want," Collier said.

Collier said the building housing the AMI Chamber of Commerce, also formerly owned by Reliance, was not included in the closing and that the note was purchased by another party.

Third fireworks display added

AMISUN News Robbery Banker
Sparklers are considered legal fireworks. PHOTO/CHRIS MIKULA

All three Chiles Group restaurants, the Sandbar, BeachHouse and Mar Vista, will host fireworks shows this upcoming holiday weekend with opportunities to watch from the beach or bay or enjoy a party inside before watching the show.

The celebration starts the day before, July 3, with a fireworks extravaganza at the BeachHouse restaurant, 200 Gulf Drive N., Bradenton Beach. VIP party packages are available and there will be music and dancing. This is the music and dancing. This is the 16th year for this event at the BeachHouse.

The party continues on the Fourth with a fireworks extravaganza at the Sandbar restaurant, 100 Spring Ave., on the north end of Anna Maria Island. Party packages are available with the party being held under the Sandbar event pavilion. Beach barbecue, wine and beer and party favors round out the party. The cost is $50 for adults and $25 for kids.

Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant and Pub, 760 Broadway St., Longboat Key, will host its inaugural fireworks show on July 4. Co-sponsored by Mar Vista, Moore’s Stone Crab and the Longboat Observer, Sarasota Bay will come alive with a fireworks display over the Intracoastal waters of Longbeach Village. Mar Vista will also offer party packages and a front row seat for their show.

All of the fireworks shows start at dark, weather permitting.

For information on any of the fireworks shows, contact BeachHouse,, 779-2222; Sandbar,, 778-8705; Mar Vista,, 383-2391; or visit for info on all three shows.

Seashells by the seashore
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

by Tim Eiseler shows one design for renovating the Anna Maria city pier.

ANNA MARIA — A city pier project begun more than five years ago is a giant step closer to becoming reality as a result of an agreement between the city and Manatee County.

Attorneys for both governmental bodies are working on the contract for the county to serve as the contractor.

City officials have said the project should greatly enhance the base of the city pier with a boardwalk, benches and Florida native landscaping.

Anna Maria has a $376,000 transportation enhancement grant from the Florida Department of Transportation as a result of an application Commissioner JoAnn Mattick wrote a little more than five years ago.

A committee charged with developing plans for spending the grant money began meeting a year-and-a-half ago.

After several months of meetings, including field trips, the committee determined that the best use for the grant was to enhance the area at the base of the pier.

It was then that representatives from FDOT informed the committee that its plans for the project would cost about $800,000.

"We were really disappointed," said Mattick, who chairs the committee. "We had no idea the cost would be so high." As the committee began to digest the information about the cost, several members began questioning the figures that FDOT came up with.

When it was clear that under FDOT guidelines, the cost of a palm tree was $3,000, and there were such requirements as staging and traffic management running into the tens of thousands of dollars, committee members began looking for other ways to approach it.

"Why do we need to manage traffic at Pine and South Bay?" committee member Steve Kring asked. Chris Piazza, an FDOT engineer, told him that those were requirements of his agency.

Other requirements were that FDOT-certified contractors do any work on the project with purchases from only FDOT-certified providers for such things as palm trees and boards for the boardwalk.

FDOT Community Liaison Manon Lavoie told committee members that if they could get certified as a Local Agency Program (LAP) agency, they would still have to go through a competitive bid process, but they could bypass the requirement that contractors and suppliers had to be on the FDOT-approved list.

Manatee County is already LAP certified, so Mattick and Mayor Fran Barford approached county representatives some months ago about forming a partnership where the city could piggyback onto the county’s LAP certification.

Now, that partnership is about to come to fruition.

At the June 24 city commission meeting, City Attorney Jim Dye said the county and the city are close to agreement on the terms of the contract.

Mattick said her only concern is to make sure the city has final say on what the design would be.

"We’ve worked hard to come up with a design, and I just want to make sure they follow our design as much as possible," she said.

Dye pointed out that that’s written into the agreement.

The county will provide the formal engineering drawings and either county employees or contractors selected with a competitive bidding process will do the work.

In essence, the county will run the project to the city’s specifications.

"I’m hopeful that we can get much more for our grant money than we could have with FDOT," Mattick said.

Under the terms of the grant, funds for the design work on the project will be available July 1. The actual construction can begin in July of next year.

"That should allow plenty of time to get the project done before the centennial celebration of the pier in 2011," Mattick said.

Long ride for parasailors
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

about their experience after arriving back at the dock.

BRADENTON BEACH – The Calacci family got more than the usual 15-minute parasail trip on Wednesday when high winds kept a father and son up in the air for more than three hours.

The Chicago family of six, who were vacationing on Lido Key, ventured into the Gulf of Mexico with Fun & Sun Parasail, of Bradenton Beach around 1 p.m.

The wind speed at the nearest weather station at Sarasota International Airport was nine miles an hour at that time, according to the National Weather Service in Ruskin.

But by 2 p.m., shortly after Mike Calacci and his son, Alex, were launched into the air, winds had whipped up and whitecaps were rolling in, said lifeguards at Coquina Beach, who watched the event unfold. By that time, the weather station was recording wind gusts up to 32 miles per hour.

The parachute hung in the same place for several hours with the boat apparently anchored, according to lifeguards. A second boat attempted a rescue by attaching a rope to the vertical line and pulling it down with the force of the boat’s forward motion.

When the floating pair was within 15 feet of the water, Mike Calacci considered unhooking himself and his son from the parachute and dropping into the Gulf, he said.

Fortunately, they were unable to work the latches because the wind gusted, a rope snapped and the pair shot back up into the air, Calacci said, adding, "The crew fought it hard and did the best they could."

"They almost rescued them," said son Lou Calacci, who watched from the boat. "The rope broke."

While Alex dangled in the parachute, he grew ill and vomited. His dad tried to persuade him to close his eyes to stop the seasickness.

To pass the time and stay calm, "I tried to nap," but wasn’t able to, said the father of four, who was wearing a lifeguard T-shirt. "The harness was too uncomfortable."

Down on the boat, the rest of the family watched anxiously, wishing the pair had a cell phone with them.

"We sang and prayed," said mom Tina Calacci, shaking her head as she described the crew’s discussion of the "last resort" – cutting the line and setting them adrift.

When the wind began to subside around 4:20 p.m., the two crewmen, true to their Superman T-shirts, were able to bring the parachute and the pair safely back down to the boat.

Upon arriving at the dock a few minutes later, the family sat at a picnic table in the shade, drinking cold water and reflecting.

"I don’t know when I’ve ever been happier," said a slightly shaken and sunburned Mike Calacci, adding that he intended to go back to their rental condo and lie down.

"I’m still a little seasick," said his son, Adam, holding a souvenir piece of the tow rope.

"We had it under control," Fun & Sun co-owner Karen Archer said, adding that the company was in contact with the U.S. Coast Guard throughout the incident.

A Cortez Coast Guard station log indicates that an officer contacted Fun & Sun at 2:29 p.m. and was told that the vessel was one mile offshore waiting for the wind to die down to bring its customers back on deck.

The Coast Guard did not send help because the parasail company felt comfortable that it could handle the situation, and "It was not quite a life or death situation," said Petty Officer Robert Simpson of the Coast Guard’s public affairs office in St. Petersburg.

"I don’t know what we would have done," he said, adding that the agency was communicating with the vessel by radio in case the situation escalated.

Like any business, parasail operators are required to have business licenses, which Fun & Sun has, according to the city of Bradenton Beach, but the industry is largely unregulated.

In 2004 in Bradenton Beach, two 15-year-old girls survived being entangled in a power line when another parasail company’s tow rope broke, setting them adrift.

Tips for parasailors

1. Parasail only with an established company that has a business license, insurance and a U.S. Coast Guard licensed captain.
2. Do not parasail in winds over 18 knots, rain, fog or an approaching storm.
3. Do not parasail higher than 600 feet.
4. Do not exceed recommended passenger weight restrictions.
5. Ask for a safety briefing prior to your flight, including a description of the activity, equipment operation, safety procedures, hand signals and evacuation procedures during a water landing, fire or other emergency.

Source: National Foundation for Parasail Regulations

Sand negotiations under way
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

ILLUSTRATION PROVIDED Under a proposal by Manatee County,
beach-quality sand would be removed from Port Dolphin’s proposed
alternative pipeline route before it lays its natural gas pipeline.
The sand would be deposited on Anna Maria Island and Longboat
Key in 2011, two years before the next beach renourishment is
scheduled. The plan is contingent on state and federal permits
for the proposed floating port and pipeline.

Manatee County and Port Dolphin Energy are negotiating an agreement to remove sand from the company’s proposed natural gas pipeline path in the Gulf and use it in an early beach renourishment, officials have announced.

Port Dolphin is applying for permits to build a natural gas port off Anna Maria Island that would be connected by an underwater pipeline to Port Manatee.

If the project is approved, the company’s preferred pipeline route, about two miles north of the Island, would make a beach-quality sand deposit inaccessible for future beach renourishment projects due to required buffer zones around the pipeline. Some local officials opposed the pipeline plan at the outset because it would have impacted the renourishment zone.

However, the new proposal would save the rare sand deposit by bringing it up before the pipeline is built, thus creating business for Port Manatee and a new natural gas supply for southwest Florida, said Charlie Hunsicker, director of Manatee County’s Natural Resources Department.

The proposal moves up scheduled beach renourishment in Holmes Beach, Bradenton Beach and Longboat Key by more than two years, with construction beginning in November 2011 and ending in April 2012, he said.

"If we get a beach down in 2012 instead of 2014, won’t we be fortunate when the hurricane of 2013 comes ashore?" he asked. "That may be a benefit that will be incalculable."

Another benefit of the plan is that the sand borrow area the county has been using for renourishment would have more time to recharge itself with sand shifted by the tides in Tampa Bay, he said.

"We will be allowing our best location to renew itself over a longer period of time and give us a less expensive project in 2023," he said.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), one of several agencies that must grant a permit before Port Dolphin’s project begins, has given conceptual approval to the sand proposal and has agreed to prioritize the permitting process, Hunsicker said.

Port Dolphin also has been cooperative with the county, he said, informally agreeing to share yet undetermined costs that the county will incur by losing federal funds due to changing the beach renourishment schedule.

"We look forward to working out details," said Port Dolphin spokesman Wayne Hopkins of Tampa public relations firm Hill and Knowlton, adding that the negotiations are a result of a recent request by Manatee County commissioners for a meeting of the parties – Port Dolphin, Manatee County, DEP and Longboat Key.

But Longboat Key officials said they were unaware of the proposal, which would require the town to contribute funding for the renourishment project.

"We do not know what negotiations Manatee County and Port Dolphin have had," said Juan Florensa, the town’s public works director. "We’re working with DEP to get to the bottom of this and determine if there is a proposal."

Town officials have criticized Port Dolphin for being unresponsive to requests for information on the location and quality of underwater sand deposits the company discovered in its engineering studies.

A formal agreement is expected to be presented to Manatee County Commissioners on July 28.

Public beach concessions to go to bid
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/PAT COPELAND Beachgoers order snacks and
sandwiches at the concession stand at Manatee Publc Beach.
The county is seeking proposals from people who want to
operate the concession stands at this beach and Coquina Beach.

BRADENTON – Manatee County commissioners voted last week to seek requests for proposals (RFP) for an operator for the concessions at the Coquina and Manatee public beaches.

"It was shocking," Dee Percifield-Schaefer said. "We were expecting the last five years. It should have been automatic."

Percifield-Schaefer and her husband, Gene Schaefer, as P.S. Beach Associates, have had the concessions since 1992 and had a five-year extension that could have been approved by the county. However, the request to seek RFPs was placed on the consent agenda for the board’s June 23 meeting.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who asked that it be removed from the consent agenda for discussion, said, "I’m disappointed. As a mayor and commissioner in Holmes Beach, I never had a complaint about them in 17 years."

The vote was 5/2 to seek RFPs, with Whitmore and Commissioner John Chappie dissenting.

"Carol and John did their best," Percifield-Schaefer said. "They really went to bat for us. I don’t think it was fair. I’m from the old school where you shook hands and that was your word."

Although county officials did not respond to inquiries regarding why the concessions are being put out to bid, Whitmore said she thought it was a business decision and there also was some discussion about renting chairs and cabanas.

Percifield-Schaefer said she plans to submit a bid, and Whitmore asked the community to step up and offer its support.

Police to confiscate illegal fireworks on the Fourth

Island police plan to confiscate illegal fireworks on the Fourth of July and will advertise that fact on roadside signs leading to and on the Island.

"We’ll do what we did last year," Bradenton Beach Chief Sam Speciale said. "Our guys will be out on the beach, and if people are blatant with their fireworks, we’ll confiscate them."

Sgt. Dave Turner, of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Anna Maria substation, said he personally delivered flyers regarding the sale and use of fireworks to residences and businesses prior to the holiday.

"We will confiscate illegal fireworks," he said. "There’s a lot of hard feelings, but we’ve had a lot of injuries. We want everybody to have a safe July 4."

Turner said he would have four deputies at the Sandbar restaurant, the site of a professional fireworks display on July 4, for crowd control and an additional six deputies for normal patrol.

Holmes Beach Police Lt. Dale Stephenson said his department also would confiscate fireworks, adding, "But we won’t be as aggressive as last year. If we get complaints or see something, we’ll act."

Bob Tollise, Manatee County’s hazardous materials coordinator, said fireworks will be taken to the Holmes Beach Police Department and picked up by the MSO Bomb Squad, which will destroy them.

The generally accepted rule is if it flies or goes bang, it’s illegal. Manatee County prohibits the use and general sale of illegal fireworks.

Legal fireworks are called sparklers and are defined as "a device which emits shower of sparks upon burning, does not contain any explosive compounds, does not detonate or explode, is hand held or ground based, cannot propel itself through the air and contains not more than 100 g. of the chemical compound which produce sparks upon burning."

The Florida Fire Marshal’s Office Web site contains an approved sparkler list which is 53 pages long.

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