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Updates from June, 2011
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Anna Maria Island, Fl.,
In our hectic, tense, sometimes even unpleasant lives, Anna Maria Island is an oasis.
Although the island is only seven miles long, it has an expansive heart. It is a place where entrepreneurs value hand-cut, hundred-year-old logs and historic chimneys over bank accounts. Where real estate developer’s brag about friends and tropical plantings rather than profits, and world-class restaurateurs retain a sense of humor and whimsy. Resort managers sincerely overextend themselves to calm nervous brides and exclusive galleries welcome elderly women who visit daily to listen to the music and talk.
In the City of Anna Maria, there are no mailboxes – residents walk to the post office to get their mail, and there are no chain restaurants or stores on the island. Largess and generosity are the norm, whether you are a resident, a first-time visitor, or a repeat traveler. Everyone is embraced on Anna Maria.
This amazing culture is only half the appeal of the island.
Located on Florida’s west coast, only 1 hour from Tampa International Airport, Anna Maria boasts some of the most pristine beaches in the world. Beautiful white sand meets clear aqua water, and it’s all clean.
Without the shadow of boring fast food looming over the skyline, small, individual establishments flourish and create high quality, interesting food. Restaurants are plentiful and extraordinary, from wonderful breakfast quiche to juicy hamburgers to perfect bouillabaisse.
There is also limitless opportunity in the “things to do” category. Water sports include kayaking, sailing, boating, parasailing, and jet skiing, you can fish in some of the best fishing waters in the world, walk on the beach, ride bicycles, visit museums, attend dog costume contests, or large art festivals.
Shopping ranges from the usual beach-goer fare to eclectic and interesting. Where else can you find specialty olive oils and bulk herbs and a mural of Elvis as a saint within a few blocks of each other?
There are no go-karts, water slides, roller coasters, or extreme sports on the island. No drive through fast food or cookie-cutter restaurant chains.
Anna Maria Island begs one to ask, “Who needs the mundane when you can have the extraordinary?” Residents and visitors alike celebrate breathtaking sunsets with cheers and bell ringing. Every day. Out loud. They talk to each other and smile and enjoy the day.
From sitting on white sand beaches, to dining at the finest of white tablecloth restaurants, there is plenty to do at Anna Maria Island.
Although it lacks noise and bluster there no shortage of activities. Foremost, there’s the beach. It’s hard to be bored when you can spend the day frolicking in the water and the sand, finding shells and body surfing, or reading a book and relaxing. Anna Maria also has a full-calendar of special events, including a major art festival (Arts Hop) and the always popular Bayfest, as well as several other festivals and parades throughout the year.
White beaches of Anna Maria.
Anna Maria’s location, on the Gulf and the Bay, lend themselves to other water sports. It has some of the best fishing in the world, and you can fish on the shore, from a boat, or from the beach. The three Anna Maria piers, the Bridge Street Pier, the Rod & Reel Pier, and the City of Anna Maria Pier, are generally filled with anglers fishing and talking and spending the day. Many private companies rent boats for half or full day fishing trips, shore fishing or deep-sea fishing. You can also parasail, jetski, or tube.
Almost Heaven Kayak Adventures has kayak trips for all skill levels allowing for solo or multiple guided tours including the South Lido Mangrove Tunnels, the Myakka River, the Siesta Key/Turtle Beach, the Longboat Key, the Anna Maria Island, the Egmont Key, the Fisheating Creek , the Rainbow Springs, the Cabbage Key, and the Cayo Costa tour.
Tour guides are Master Naturalists and avid kayakers, expertly narrating while pointing out flora and fauna and explaining the history of the location.
While all the tours are beautiful, the South Lido Mangrove Tunnels are a unique activity well suited for all ages. The two-and-a-half-hour trip starts in Little Sarasota Bay, where kayakers are likely to see manatee, dolphin, pelicans, herons, and osprey, as well as other wildlife.
It then loops around to the South Lido Mangrove Tunnels, which originally were “mosquito ditches” dug in the 1950s to eliminate standing water which were breeding pools for mosquitoes. The efforts were abandoned, but they created several “tunnels” through the red mangroves, where kayakers can see the complex root systems of the plants and the animals who live in the tunnels.
The tour is relaxing and quiet, a true up-close encounter with nature. Because there is little currant, it is a perfect family kayak trip in an exclusive location.
The easiest, best way to see all the island has to offer is by bike. If you didn’t bring your own, you can visit Beach Bums Bike Rentals, where Diane and Lauren will happily rent you bike, Go-Pets, three-wheeled bikes, surrey bikes, or golf carts.
They also rent kayaks and baby equipment. Diane and Lauren will also point you in the direction of interesting destinations and give you advice about what to see and where to go. The island-colored store is conveniently located downtown and is a great place to start your tour of Anna Maria.
Anna Maria oozes charm and elegance and embraces its history even as it moves forward.
Change is evolutionary, not revolutionary, and it does happen, even in this protected enclave. Part of that evolution includes newer shops aimed at meeting the needs of residents and tourists. The downtown area recently benefited from a redevelopment project that maintained the cultural identify of Anna Maria while upgrading the shops and implementing “green” policies.
That effort highlights high-quality, interesting businesses, such as Kelly Karry’s Anna Maria Olive Oil Company. You can also head back to Ginny’s and Jean E’s, where you can find a huge selection of gifts, or go toward the pier for more downtown shops. Most stores have a beachy/nautical theme, and there are several excellent T-shirt shops where you can pick up Anna Maria souvenirs.
The Anna Maria Island Historical Society hosts a wonderful museum that includes three buildings, the museum itself, the Belle Haven Cracker Cottage, and the original City Jail. The building narrates Anna Maria’s history in displays, photos, and historical items.
Director Betty Yanger had in-depth knowledge of the history of the island, as well as current day happenings, and is exuberant in sharing information. Guests can walk through Belle Haven Cracker Cottage, famous for falling off the City Pier where it was originally built, and view the house the way it was originally set up with numerous period items.
As an added bonus, the historic society bakes fresh bread on certain days of the week.
Just a few doors down from the historic museum is the Studio on Gulf and Pine, the cultural art center on Anna Maria. Owner Rhea Chiles and curator Tommy Fagan have created an outstanding center, with artist exhibits from across the spectrum, classes, and lectures.
The breathtaking 8×12 “Myakka Fork” by Jake Fernandez invites guests to gaze literally for hours at the 24-panel wood mural, depicting the natural Florida landscape. The surface of the wood blocks is uneven, reflecting light differently from every angle, giving it a sense of being alive.
Many of the other artists in the gallery, such as Ann Abgott, are local, and all the art is original. Tommy Fagan has several bells on display in the gallery, which he makes from old dive tanks. The former blacksmith heats the tanks to just the right temperature to create the perfect sound, making the pieces both beautiful and audibly pleasant.
The 5,000-foot gallery includes not only some of the best art on the island, but also one of the best sound systems on the island. Tommy welcomes residents and visitors to stop in, enjoy the art, talk, listen to the music and relax. The studio is open Tuesday through Saturday from 1pm to 5pm.
Anna Maria is truly one of the last great unspoiled family vacation spots, welcoming, warm, and wonderful.
“People on Anna Maria are genuinely happy because they want to be here, whether they are residents or visitors,” says Bert Schaefer of Ginny’s and Jane E’s. She adds, “I do see some sad people here — they are the ones at our Internet Café printing out boarding passes to go home…I feel so sad for them…they always look miserable.”
To fully enjoy Anna Maria, you have to downshift. There’s no room for frantic or exasperated. Relax. You’re in one of the most beautiful places in the world, with some of the nicest people in the world. Take a minute to enjoy. Print This Post
By Ted C. Fishman
For the past three years, I have been traveling in Asia, Europe and the U.S. to get a glimpse at a world population that is growing ever older. Before long, throughout the developed world, there will be more people over age 50 than there are under 15. This has never happened before.Older people, more than any other group, have borne the brunt of an increasingly mobile world where jobs and money move ever more speedily around a globe. Older workers don’t move or find new opportunities as swiftly as companies and capital do. Yet, one of the most hopeful and surprising trends in our rapidly aging world is the reassertion by communities of the qualities that make them uniquely attractive and less vulnerable to the tides that gut them of young people and leave older people to endure economic decline.
In my travels, two American communities — industrial Rockford, Ill., and Sunbelt Sarasota, Fla. — offered contrasting views today of how a growing sense of place might figure in our older future to come.
As in other challenged industrial cities, Rockford’s leaders face a local economy that often communicates to people in their 50s and older that they are past their use-by dates. Blame global competition. It moves many jobs abroad and spurs automation, which also destroys jobs for industrial workers. Nearly everywhere I go in Rockford, I meet former factory workers who feel they were urged to take early retirement or otherwise pressured out of their jobs too early. The local big box stores, and other employers that see the value of seasoned workers, suit them up for jobs. Few pay nearly the salaries the workers earned in their former gigs.
Young move away
One of the biggest complaints in town is that Rockford’s best-educated young people leave for the big urban metropolises, or go to select smaller places that are considered cool. Rockford is not cool. But it is trying.
The city’s mayor was elected as a political novice at age 35 on a promise to make the city look and feel young again. His plan mirrors the ambitions of aging industrial cities across America. The schemes challenge the notion that economic fortune depends on how well a person, firm or place serves a wired, flat world. Instead, it argues for the creation of exhilarating places that have their own unique, attractive character that cannot be replicated in China or Brazil or wherever jobs might migrate to. A prime goal is to attract the young professionals and creative types who possess the generative juice to kick-start new economic activity. Cafes, river walks, cultural events and incentives for inventive businesses to fill in the decimated downtown are all part of Rockford’s plan.
Ironically, one of Rockford’s great recent victories is the luring of a giant Chinese solar panel manufacturer to town. It didn’t want Rockford’s wooded paths or cafes. It wanted its Midwestern workers.
What’s more, the niche that is best attracting new young professionals and creating jobs is the health care sector. It did not need local officialdom to help it grow. The needs of the growing numbers of elderly in the region took care of that. The hospitals are now the second largest employer in town. Older Rockford might not be the enemy of its rejuvenation; it might be the engine.
Cool and old?
Can a place get cool by getting old? That’s the idea in Sarasota, where one household in two is home to someone over 65. While the zeitgeist in Rockford makes people in their 50s feel old, in Sarasota someone 50, or 60, is a kid. Sarasota is flush with new not-for-profit organizations because retirees there crave new projects and start charities. The local Ringling cultural complex, which includes a circus museum, busies 700 older volunteers.
There is so much going on in Sarasota to promote, and profit from, keeping older people engaged, active and healthy that one local civic organization touts the region as a kind of Silicon Valley for aging. It sounds paradoxical, but Sarasota’s critical mass of firms serving the older market produce a steady stream of innovation — in business models, services and technology — all with the needs and desires of late-life consumers in mind. Firms that pioneer innovative senior housing in Sarasota, for example, replicate it elsewhere.
Unsurprisingly, one particularly competitive field is health care, the kind older people need and the kind they don’t, but spend for nonetheless. Sarasota Memorial Hospital and Health Care System is the second largest hospital in Florida. Some 1,300 doctors work in the area, a disproportionately high number for a population of 50,000. Highway 41 running past the main hospital is the kind of loosely zoned strip that other cities fill with car dealerships, but in Sarasota it’s a stretch of pharmacies, clinics and quasi-medical white-coat practices, most with big billboards.
Health care is certainly a potent force in bringing outside money, what economists call “export” revenue, to town. It comes mainly in the form of federal Medicare funds. Specialties that rely on customers who pay their own way also flourish.
Looking for a chiropractor, for prolotherapy or for a mesotherapy weight loss center? Highway 41 is the place. None of those businesses is relocating to cool or low-cost foreign climes. For them, Sarasota’s aging population has made it the best place to be. Even as Florida retirement communities go boom and bust, for Sarasota, being the community that best serves its older population gives it a vitality and stability other communities might well envy. And learn from.
Ted C. Fishman is the author of the new book Shock of Gray: The Aging of the World’s Population and How it Pits Young Against Old, Child Against Parent, Worker Against Boss, Company Against Rival, and Nation Against Nation. He also is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Print This Post
A spectacular West Indies design breathes new life into a historic Siesta Key property.Author: Carol TischPhotographer: Matt McCourtney
More than 100 years ago, one Sarasota family’s dream of a water-oriented, outdoor lifestyle on then remote Bay Island was realized by barging in a tiny wood frame bungalow from Tampa. Now a similar dream has led a young Sarasota family to build a grand new home on the property surrounding that historic 1905 cottage.
Bay Island is a sliver of land separated by a canal from northern Siesta Key; today, you drive over the North Bridge to Bay Island and then cross another bridge to Siesta proper. But a century ago, visitors—who included celebrities and U.S. presidents, most friends of John Ringling—arrived by boat at Bay Island’s Hamilton Hotel and then traveled across the bridge by horse and cart to Siesta’s beaches. (More …) Print This Post
As this edition of the Longboat Key News goes to press, the last chapter in the ugly saga of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is being written. After a summer of depressing headlines and grim images of the spill’s effects on beaches, marine life, businesses and tourism along the northern Gulf Coast, the latest dispatches from the disaster site bring much welcomed relief.
The Macondo Well has been successfully capped from above; and a more elaborate procedure involving pumping mud and concrete down its casing—called “static kill”— was declared a complete success by the officials, scientists and engineers involved. Over the next few days, the long-awaited relief well will intersect the damaged well at its base and pump in additional mud and concrete from below. Once the concrete hardens, as it already has from above, the well will be declared officially dead and recovery along the affected areas of the gulf Coast can truly begin in earnest. Thankfully Southwest Florida is nowhere near the affected areas—those being certain beaches and waterways along coastal Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and a small sliver of Florida’s far western panhandle (which has already been cleaned-up). (More …) Print This Post
Siesta Beach, Siesta Key, Sarasota, Florida
Says Dr. Beach, “Sugar sand with a beach that is hundreds of yards wide; you’ve gotta love this place.” We do.
Stay: Sara Sea Beach Resort (800/235-3493 or sarasearesort.com) has 21 beachy rooms, each with a kitchen and, on your arrival, a complimentary bottle of wine. Boutique rooms start at $237. For vacation rentals, visit siesta4rent.com.
Shop: Hip fashions—shoes, clothing, swimwear—await at Foxy Lady (941/349-6644 or foxyladysarasota.com), in a cottage just across from the beach.
Local secret: The Siesta Key Drum Circle (siestadrumcircle.com) draws hundreds to the beach for music and dancing every Sunday before sundown.
Photograph Panoramic Images/Getty Images , Writer Steve Millburg Print This Post
President Obama signed H.R. 3548 Friday morning, enacting into law an extension, and adjustment, of the $8,000 tax credit for first-time buyers. Among other things, the extension adds money for certain move-up buyers; creates one deadline for signing a contract and a later deadline for closing; changes income requirements; and limits a purchased home’s cost to $800,000.
“Extending the homebuyer tax credit and expanding it to reach more homebuyers is the right thing to do,” says 2009 Florida Realtors® President Cynthia Shelton. “It is critical to maintaining the positive momentum we’ve been experiencing in the housing market and in the overall economy. Florida Realtors applaud congressional leaders for taking action to extend the homebuyer tax credit into 2010, which will help Florida families realize their dream of homeownership, improve our communities and strengthen our economy.”
Adds John Sebree, Florida Realtors vice president of public policy, “Florida residents enjoy two additional advantages. The Florida Homebuyer Opportunity Program (FHOP), created by the Florida Legislature earlier this year, still has approximately $28 million that first-time homebuyers can access and use toward their downpayment. And move-up buyers now have the ability to ‘port’ their current property tax savings to a new home.”
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