Strong man competition, holidays cause traffic concerns

Strong man competition, holidays cause traffic concerns
Crowds gather June 15 at Manatee Beach for the third day of the World’s Strongest Man Competition. - Submitted

LONGBOAT KEY – When officials met for the Coalition of Barrier Island Elected Officials meeting June 18, the topic of discussion turned toward traffic related to holidays and special events.

The previous weekend saw three of the four days of The World’s Strongest Man Competition held on Anna Maria Island with one day at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach and two days, including the finals, at Manatee Beach in Holmes Beach.

During the day of competition at Coquina Beach, Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie said things went smoothly, both with traffic and crowd control, though he said there was some traffic congestion due to the competition. He said that the Bradenton Beach Police Department provided two officers in addition to the security hired by the event coordinators. In the future, he said it would be appreciated if more advance warning was given to the Island city leaders before large events such as the strong man competition were held.

Commissioner Carol Soustek, representing Holmes Beach, agreed. She said the competition was way more popular with fans than city leaders had anticipated and that parking was a major issue during the two days the competition was held in Holmes Beach. She said more planning would be needed for the next time something like that was held on the Island.

Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer said he felt the event was very successful.

“It actually went pretty good,” he said of the event, adding that there was one minor fight that officers broke up and just over 100 parking tickets written over the two-day period.

On Saturday, June 15, he said there were 16 law enforcement officials on-hand, including nine from HBPD, three from Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, and four mounted sheriff’s officers. On Sunday he said there were 15 law enforcement officials present for the finals of the competition. Over the two-day period, he said there were around 34,000 cars counted coming onto the Island at Manatee Avenue.

During the event, he said event coordinators were overwhelmed by the crowds that came out to see the athletes compete, saying that this was the largest crowd to attend one of their events.

Though there were no tickets handed out for the event, leaving officials with no real way to count the number of attendees, Tokajer said he estimates that 5,000 to 10,000 people attended the two days of competition in Holmes Beach.

For the future, he suggested that event coordinators designate off-site parking for attendees to cut down on the amount of traffic and confusion with finding parking spaces that he observed during the strong man competition. He also suggested having additional food vendors to help meet the needs of such a large crowd.

At the BIEO meeting, Chappie also brought up a need to discuss the ongoing traffic issues related to holiday weekends on the Island. Over the recent Memorial Day weekend, he said Bradenton Beach police officers experienced issues with crowd control at the beaches and with illegal parking. Soustek said Holmes Beach officers had similar experiences and suggested the Island cities try to work with Manatee County officials to find a balance between celebrating the holidays and special events on the Island with locals and visitors and experiencing overcrowding situations.

Chappie agreed as well as Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy. Chappie said a meeting had been scheduled with law enforcement leaders and Manatee County officials to discuss how traffic and crowds related to holidays and special events could be better handled in the future.

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