Conservation Foundation Protects 543 Acres in the Myakka Region

Tatum SawgrassAs aggressive development continues throughout the region, it has become imperative to protect our waterways, fragile ecosystems, wildlife and resources for future generations.  The Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast has worked diligently to protect and restore the core of the 2,500-acre Tatum Sawgrass marsh.

The plan hopes to reduce flooding downstream, increase habitat for animals such as the wood stork, deer, snook and even the endangered Florida panther, and overall, improve the health and vitality of Myakka River. Protecting Murphy Marsh is critical to maintaining the region’s water quality, as water flows off the land into the Myakka River and through the more than 40 miles of protected lands that buffer the river before it flows into Charlotte Harbor estuary.

Permanent protection of the 543-acre Murphy Marsh within Manatee County’s Myakka River watershed region was recently announced by the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast.  This land is in the most threatened portion of the watershed and links three Myakka River conservation areas: the 1,143-acre Triangle Ranch, the 1,213-acre Lettuce Lakes property and Conservation Foundation’s newly conserved 38-acre Tatum Sawgrass Scrub Preserve. Conserving Murphy Marsh enables the core of the 2,500-acre Tatum Sawgrass marsh to be restored. This will reduce flooding downstream, increase habitat for animals such as the wood stork, deer, and snook, and improve the health and vitality of the Myakka River. The endangered Florida panther is documented as traversing the area.

Protecting large tracts of private property like Murphy Marsh is critical to maintaining water quality as water flows off the land into the Myakka River and through the more than 40 miles of protected lands that buffer the river before it flows into the Charlotte Harbor estuary.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provided critical funding, and will hold the perpetual conservation easement and provide additional funding for restoration. This protection success was made possible by the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation, The Gardener Foundation, the Felburn Foundation, the Myakka River Fund of the Manatee Community Foundation, the Disney Conservation Fund, Skip and Janis Swan, and the Everett W. Erdoesy & Gretha M. Erdoesy Foundation.

“This is a strategic addition to our protected lands and an outstanding example of how Conservation Foundation skillfully collaborates with federal, state, and private organizations, and people to accomplish large goals,” notes Charlie Hunsicker, Director of Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources.

The Conservation Foundation is facilitating a landscape-scale restoration plan based on comprehensive hydrologic modeling of the entire Upper Myakka River watershed. The protection of Murphy Marsh is the essential link in this restoration plan.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provided critical funding, and will hold the perpetual conservation easement and provide additional funding for restoration. This protection success was made possible by the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation, The Gardener Foundation, the Felburn Foundation, the Myakka River Fund of the Manatee Community Foundation, the Disney Conservation Fund, Skip and Janis Swan, and the Everett W. Erdoesy & Gretha M. Erdoesy Foundation.

Scene Magazine – SRQ July 24, 2019

Retirement Options – What’s Your Strategy?

Recently Recognized by as one of the best places to retire in the U.S.  Sarasota, FL.
Some consider this thriving city midway down the Gulf Coast to be the cultural capital of Florida, after Miami. Sarasota has a great downtown with many interesting neighborhoods. An impressive array of cultural facilities is available in Sarasota. Barrier islands like Siesta offer great beaches and developments where retirees can put their feet up.

Retirement Strategy
One of the most important aspects of retirement planning is making housing plans. The reality is that you need a place to live in retirement and there are a lot of different options. Furthermore, even if you decide to just keep the status quo and age in place, there are a lot of factors to consider.

The home is often a retiree’s largest asset, with the median wealth in homes for a 65-year-old couple at $192,552, according to the U.S. Census data. This represents about two-thirds of the median retiree’s assets. Furthermore, the home comes with a cost, which is often the largest expense for retirees at nearly $20,000 a year. So let’s look at 10 different retirement housing options, ranging from aging in place all the way through nursing home care at the end of life.

Aging in place
What is it: Roughly 83% of retiree homeowners want to stay in their current home for as long as possible.

Pro: The homeowner gets to keep consistency in their life. They know their house, understand the costs associated with it, have an emotional attachment to it, and know the surrounding area. In many cases this can be the most enjoyable and stress-free way to live in retirement.

Con: Often retirees have outgrown their current homes. Perhaps they raised a few kids and have a lot of extra maintenance, rooms and costs associated with keeping up the house. While it might work early in retirement, it could become a burden as they age. The current home also might not be friendly for aging in place. The home could have too many stairs, not a lot of senior amenities, and be far away from senior services like health care.

Home sharing
What is it: For some homeowners, the desire to age in place is there, but the finances just don’t make sense, especially if the person is single. So one option is to take on a roommate. Home sharing is mostly engaged in by women in retirement, with over 4 million senior women sharing a home with at least two other women. There are home-sharing services that help pair up homeowners with potential roommates, both from a financial and compatibility standpoint.

Pro: Home sharing can be a great way for a homeowner to age in place, add companionship to their life, and improve their finances. The homeowner is able to charge rent and likely split utilities, which can add much-needed cash flow. Additionally, it allows the homeowner to have someone else live with them who is in a similar stage of life.

Con: Not everyone wants to share their home with a stranger or another person. Furthermore, the decision to bring someone into your home carries a bunch of risks. For one, you might not get along. Additionally, there can be a lot of headaches from renting a room if the renter is unable to meet their payments. It can be hard to evict a person, especially a senior.

What is it: When you are working, living close to work is important for many people. However, once you retire, that need is gone. All of a sudden, location desires change. Additionally, the house you were living in might no longer fit your needs, so relocating to a better fit can make sense.

Pro: Relocating can help free up home equity and reduce expenses if the homeowner downsizes. It is also possible to move to an area with a lower cost of living or to a state that has lower taxes. Additionally, a benefit of relocating in retirement can be to move closer to family or to improve one’s quality of life by moving to warmer weather or closer to recreational activities.

Con: Relocating means getting used to a new area and home. Moving always has costs associated with it also, whether it is hiring movers, closing costs or just travel costs. Lastly, if the decision to relocate eventually does not work, it is very hard to undo.

What is it: If you are already renting this would be the status quo. However, for homeowners, one option is to sell the home and rent. In some cases, you can engage in a sale-leaseback agreement and sell your current home and continue to rent it back. In other cases, you can sell and move to a new rental location.

Pro: By selling and renting, you can free up home equity for other needs and possibly reduce your expenses. Renting also provides more flexibility in that you can move more freely than if you owned. Additionally, renting can take some of the home upkeep and maintenance off the table. This can be very valuable to seniors as they age. While it might have been enjoyable to mow the lawn and take care of the property at an earlier age, as one ages it can become difficult and expensive to hire out, so renting can be a way of controlling the costs of living.

Con: One of the biggest downsides of renting is just that most homeowners don’t want to do it. A survey of retirement age homeowners found that only 5% wanted to sell their home and rent. For many Americans owning their home is part of the American dream, so renting just doesn’t fit their vision of a successful retirement, even if it is the best financial outcome for them.

Village concept
What is it: The Beacon Community near Boston is often credited as being the first official “village model,” but communities taking care of seniors together have been around forever. The village model is about allowing seniors to age in place in their homes but with the support they need. In many cases, the village model is set up similar to a homeowners association where dues are paid into the “village” or “community,” which in turns provides services like transportation, events and some basic care.

Pro: The village model can help reduce costs as seniors share services and costs with others needing similar assistance. By allowing seniors to age in place for longer, they can avoid having to move into more expensive senior housing like assisted living facilities before they need to.

Con: While there are a few hundred village models in the country, that is not a lot of options. For many seniors there is no village model option in their area. Additionally, services are limited, so the retiree might still need to move as their needs for services grows. Furthermore, there is a cost associated with the village model, so that could impact cash flow.

Age-restricted (active adult) communities
What is it: Generally in the United States, you cannot discriminate based on age, gender or race when it comes to housing options because of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. However, The Housing For Older Persons Act of 1995 allows for communities to restrict housing options to older individuals as long as certain parameters are followed. Essentially, there are two forms of age-restricted housing options. The first requires that at least 80% of the occupied units have at least one person who is 55 or older living in the home. The other type is a bit more restrictive as it requires all residents to be at least age 62, including both spouses.

Pro: One of the biggest benefits is companionship. Seniors decide to live near and around those going through a similar part of their life and retirement. The communities often provide a variety of services, clubhouses and recreational activities.

Con: There can be additional costs associated with living in such communities, so it is not always the cheapest housing option. Furthermore, with a 62-and-over community, adult children cannot move in if they don’t meet the age requirement. Additionally, for spouses with large age gaps, they can be prohibitive also.

Continuing care retirement communities
What is it: Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) offer a continuum of care throughout retirement, often starting with independent living. Most of these communities require the senior to move in when they are in good health and can live independently. Over time, the senior can stay in the same community but receive different levels of care and senior housing, ranging from assisted living to long-term care to end-of-life care.

Pro: CCRCs allow a senior to age in place in the same community but receive services and long-term care as their needs change. This is also a way to control and, in some cases, prepay your long-term care costs. The communities also often provide food, transportation and recreational activities.

Con: The biggest concern with CCRCs is whether the entity will be able to fulfill its promises over time. CCRCs are typically for-profit businesses that can run out of money and go out of business. Additionally, many require down payments in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. So, if the entity goes bankrupt, seniors could lose these down payments.

Assisted living
What is it: Assisted living offers a combination of housing and care services. Typically when someone moves into an assisted living facility they need help with some activities of daily living and are in the early stages of needing long-term care services. However, the person can still live mostly independently.

Pro: For many, assisted living facilities offer the care required to maintain a standard of living desired by the senior. They could need some help with bathing, dressing, mobility or cooking.

Con: Cost. According to 2018 numbers in Genworth’s Cost of Care Study, the average assisted living cost is roughly $48,000 a year. Furthermore, Genworth predicts that this cost will balloon to roughly $86,000 a year by 2038. Additionally, it can be hard to choose the right facility. Plan ahead to determine how you will pay for assisted living and the type of facility and care that you want.

Nursing home
What is it: Nursing homes provide housing and full-time care for individuals needing significant levels of long-term assistance. Nursing home care is less about making a housing decision and more about receiving the level of care you need.

Pro: Care can be significant and help the person live a better lifestyle than they would if they tried to manage alone at home. Additionally, nursing homes can provide skilled care services that might be difficult for family members to provide or expensive to hire out for at home.

Con: Nursing home quality ranges significantly, and so does cost. Furthermore, most people do not look forward to or choose to move into a nursing home, but instead, it is typically driven out of necessity. According to Genworth, a private room in 2018 cost over $100,000 a year on average. Plans for how to fund your care should start well before retirement.

What is it: Charity housing can mean a few different things. First, there are charities and religious organizations that provide free or reduced-cost housing options for low-income seniors. Another form of charitable housing can come from family members. Many will take in relatives to help them out.

Pro: Charity is going to be in many cases the cheapest form of retiree housing. When it comes to family members taking in a senior, it can also be a great way to spend time with family.

Con: Most people do not want to rely on family members or charities for their housing or other needs. The desire for most people is to live independently. However, living with family and using charitable housing is a viable option for millions.  June 12, 2019

America’s Best Places to Live – Sarasota Florida

Sarasota, Florida

#34 in Best Places to Live | Overall Score 6.7 / 10

#3 in Best Places to Retire | Overall Score 7.4 / 10

What’s it like to live in Sarasota, FL?

Warm temperatures year-round, award-winning beaches and a thriving arts and cultural scene have made Sarasota a go-to place for retirees and families, not to mention a handful of celebrities. This southwest Florida region, which is about an hour from Tampa and two hours from Orlando, continues to attract new residents with great restaurants and plenty of shopping options.

Living in Sarasota has elements of what many consider paradise, mixed with some hints of reality. As the population grows, the area struggles to keep up with infrastructure needs. Traffic congestion is becoming more common. Those who live, work or visit downtown Sarasota will see their share of construction cranes as the region copes with an influx of residents and a record-breaking number of tourists.

However, as the Sarasota community flourishes, so does its economy. Sarasota offers a sizable job market for those working in health care, small business and tourism.


U.S. News analyzed 125 metro areas in the United States to find the best places to live based on quality of life and the job market in each metro area, as well as the value of living there and people’s desire to live there.

Best places to live


What’s the cost of living in Sarasota, FL?

Sarasota is relatively affordable compared to larger Florida regions like Miami, though young families are finding it increasingly harder to buy a home at a reasonable cost. The continuing influx of wealthy residents has affected the cost of housing, as there has been more of a focus on upscale living.

Housing Costs this Year



What’s the weather like in Sarasota, FL?

Although heat and humidity are a regular part of life in South Florida, that doesn’t stop many people from enjoying the area’s outdoor activities, such as golfing, boating and fishing. Still, residents know to keep their umbrellas handy for the fierce rain storms that usually pass through from April to October.

Seasonal Temperature (Avgs)









What’s the best way to get around Sarasota, FL?

The majority of people in Sarasota get around by car, and traffic is becoming more of an issue as new residents and visitors come to town. Year-round residents will tell you it can take almost twice as long to get places during the winter tourist season.

The region has a bus system, the Sarasota County Area Transit, or SCAT, which is seeing an increasing number of users. The bus system is fairly extensive, but heavy traffic can cause schedule delays. Sarasota has some neighborhoods that are particularly pedestrian-friendly, such as downtown, the Rosemary district, St. Armand’s Circle and Southside Village.

The Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport connects residents to destinations in the U.S. and abroad. Residents also have access to intercity bus service provided by Greyhound.

Who lives in Sarasota, FL?

Sarasota has a significant number of residents over the age of 65 and that population is predicted to increase; as you make your way around town, a silver boom is pretty evident. A retiree in Sarasota likely has a busier social calendar than someone half his or her age, as the area caters to its older residents by offering lots of activities, such as shopping and golf. This is especially true during the “in season” from October to April when snowbirds from colder climates come to enjoy Florida’s more temperate weather.

That said, families also feel at home in Sarasota, and there are plenty of good schools, clean parks and local attractions for them to enjoy.

Young single people won’t have the diversity or nightlife available as they would in a metro area like Miami. This could be advantageous for someone who likes things a little more low-key, and there still are millennials who take over Sarasota’s nighttime scene at local bars, clubs, restaurants and craft breweries.

What is there to do in Sarasota, FL?

Sarasota is a great place for those who enjoy the outdoors. There are a number of parks in downtown Sarasota, not to mention the massive Myakka River State Park. Golf courses also abound. And then, of course, there are the beaches. Siesta Beach has earned acclaim for its white sand and clear water. Lido Beach, just south of St. Armands Circle, is another wide stretch of shoreline that’s easy to access. If those get crowded (as they often do), beachgoers opt for Longboat Beach, Venice Beach, Bradenton Beach or the beaches of Anna Maria Island, all of which are a short drive from Sarasota.

Meanwhile, locals take advantage of the booming restaurant scene around town, which serves up everything from fresh seafood to farm-to-table specialties. There are also a handful of farmers markets open in the fall, winter and spring, with the Sarasota Farmers Market open all year.

What kind of jobs are there in Sarasota, FL?

Major industries in Sarasota include education, trade, transportation and, of course, tourism. Unemployment rates in the leisure and hospitality sector are several percentage points lower than the region’s overall rate (which is still slightly lower than the national average). Health care is also a prominent sector, with facilities like the Venice Regional Bayfront Health, the Englewood Community Hospital and the Doctors Hospital of Sarasota employing a large number of residents. There is also an enthusiastic small business community.

Because of a high volume of low-paying jobs in the service industry, the average annual income in Sarasota is lower than the national average.

U.S. News & World Report October 2018

Longboat’s Colony to Become St. Regis Resort

st. regis longboat key

What has been a dilapidated eye-sore, will soon be home to a five-star St. Regis Resort! Positioned to deliver a new level of luxury to Longboat Key, Unicorp proudly submitted plans for a first-class 166-room hotel that includes 102 residential units, 2 restaurants, a 15,000+ sq. ft. spa and opulent ballroom.

Southwest Florida is about to get a boost in travel luxury it hasn’t seen since the Ritz-Carlton opened in Sarasota in 2001.

Premier Beachfront Property – 1620 Gulf of Mexico Drive

St. Regis is a five-star luxury brand of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, which is part of Marriott International Inc. — the world’s largest hotel brand. There are 60 St. Regis hotels worldwide, including 11 in the United States. There is one St. Regis location in Florida — the St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort in Miami.

The new plan’s maximum building height is five stories, reaching no higher than 65 feet over flood elevation, which is the maximum allowable height for new construction on the Key.

Also included in the proposal are 6,700 square feet of meeting rooms, 2,750 square feet of board rooms and a “meandering saltwater lagoon.”

“A name like St. Regis adds validity to the area in the deeply competitive travel world. The industry notices when a property like a Ritz-Carlton opens, said Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County.” She remembers being at conferences and in meetings in the months leading up to the Ritz-Carlton’s opening, and there’s a buzz that comes with it.

Two-path approach

Planning, Zoning and Building Director Alaina Ray noted that any development including more than 103 units is considered nonconforming for the property’s zoning district.

With this information, Unicorp is pursuing two regulatory paths to make the proposal a reality, each of which would require a zoning code amendment to allow the property’s existing units to be used for either tourism or residential purposes, according to the proposal.

The first path requires the use of the 165 remaining units in the town’s tourism-unit pool. Zota Beach Resort, which opened in June, used 85 of the 250 total units in the pool. Voters decided to create the pool in 2008 to allow for flexibility in development of tourism on the Key.

The second path requires 31 units from the tourism pool, then using a zoning code amendment to convert the property’s 237 grandfathered units to either tourism or residential use.

Any zoning code amendment or use of the tourism-unit pool will require approval from the Town Commission.

The earliest date the proposal could go before the Planning and Zoning Board is at the group’s Oct. 17 meeting. The board will review the plan, then forward its recommendation to the Town Commission as early as November for a decision.

Pending approval from commissioners, Whittall hopes to break ground on the project within a year.

The developer noted that he has been pursuing development of the former Colony property for five years, and during that time, he’s learned a great deal about what the people of Longboat want for the site.

Whittall said he understands residents’ concerns regarding traffic. Included in his company’s proposal is a traffic study from Kimley-Horn, which concludes that the development will have a minimal impact on peak-hour traffic. The proposal also states that the resort will implement a parking fee to “discourage hotel guests and visitors from using personal vehicles.”

In addition, Whittall’s company will be involved in implementing short- and long-term traffic solutions through the Barrier Islands Traffic Study, a $942,000 project of the Florida Department of Transportation, designed to determine ways to improve the flow of traffic to, from and on Longboat, Anna Maria Island and Lido Key.

“Unicorp will participate in the traffic study as a key stakeholder and can contribute financially once strategies are developed,” the proposal reads.

Whittall hopes the community will embrace the new plan, noting that he believes the resort will bring visitors to support businesses, raise property values and “get rid of an eyesore,” referring to the property in its current state.

“We hope to be able to move ahead with the project that we believe will be good for the community,” Whittall said.

Next Door

In April, Unicorp entered into a contract with residents of Aquarius and Tencon, the two condominiums immediately neighboring the former Colony property. The contract extends “membership privileges” for residents of the two properties in exchange for support of a Unicorp project that meets certain criteria, including a total unit count of no more than 268 total units.

Membership privileges include access to the future resort’s amenities, which in the proposal include:

– Two restaurants

– 15,700-square-foot spa

– Lounge and lounge bar

– Salt water lagoon

The Project


Observer, July 26, 2017, Herald Tribune August 4, 2017

Island Life – Sarasota’s Barrier Islands

“Live the life you have imagined.” — Henry David Thoreau

Island LifeSwaying palms, swaying hammocks, miles of white sand, calm azure waters and the warm Gulf breezes of Island Life. The escape you’re yearning for in our “tech-focused” plugged-in and over-scheduled culture and you never have to leave the country.

Florida’s Southwest Gulf Coast is the perfect location to lose yourself in an exotic paradise. Just off the mainland, Sarasota’s heralded barrier islands deliver relaxation and rejuvenation, along with some pretty great recreation when you’re ready.

Allow abundant Gulf coastline to chart your course. Whether you’re exploring via car or boat, stunning sunsets and abundant natural beauty await.

From Anna Maria, just north of Sarasota, this timeless tropical escape offers Florida “the way we remember it.” Unspoiled and artsy, where the preferred method of transportation is bicycle, you can stroll, fish, dine and relax in blissful serenity.

Travel southward from Anna Maria to the manicured island of Longboat Key. A renowned location for its golf and Gulf, this 11-mile barrier island is a premier resort destination for visitors and residents. Year-round recreation and an upscale tropical community provide exceptional tennis, boating, golf and delectable dining options. Home to the Longboat Key Club’s superior amenities and service, along with pristine Gulf beaches, Longboat Key is the place to escape to luxury.

Just south of Longboat Key, Lido Key offers a quiet respite, minutes from the entertainment of St. Armands circle and downtown Sarasota.  The cluster of Lido, Bird Key and St. Armands provide everything you could desire in relaxation, dining, entertainment, rich history and natural beauty.

The ultimate in Beach Chic awaits on Siesta Key. Home to the #1 Siesta Key Beach, this original artist colony’s casual Island appeal still attracts artists and those seeking a great coastal retreat. Known for its 99% quartz sand, there’s an intrinsic attraction among Sarasota’s holistic community; citing the qualities of the beach sand to improve physical and emotional well-being.

Further south, coveted privacy awaits on Casey Key.  Offering the allure of private island living and Old Florida charm, here you’ll find no high rises or street lights. A quiet respite, this is the place to seriously unplug from everything; watch the dolphin and manatee, take a stroll and embrace the sunset.

Circus Sarasota Helps Smithsonian Folklife Festival Mark 50th Year

circus sarasotaWashington is often referred to disparagingly as a circus, but for at least a couple of weeks this summer, it actually will be true. Circus Sarasota is setting up its big top on the National Mall where the 50th Smithsonian Folklife Festival celebrates the world of circus in all its forms.

There will be daily performances by professional and amateur performers of all ages, exhibits highlighting how productions are mounted and the history and tradition of multi-generations of circus families — and a chance for visitors to meet performers and see troupes from across the country.


2017 Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Wednesday, June 28th through July 9 (with a day off on July 5) on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Circus Sarasota and the Sailor Circus will be among dozens of professional and youth circuses performing.

If the weather cooperates, organizers say this year’s festival could attract more than 1 million visitors.

The celebration begins just weeks after the closing of the venerable Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and makes the case that the circus is alive and well in all corners of the United States.

“The circus is about celebration, about the big moments of joy and delight, and that fits what we hope will happen in our 50th Celebration of the Folklife festival,” said Sabrina Motley, director of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

Preston Scott, a part-time Sarasota resident who is curator for this year’s event, said it takes three to four years to pull together each festival, a tradition that began in 1967 with a focus on performance. Since then, the festival, which celebrates folk culture and varies thematically from ever year, has highlighted various states, countries, cultures, foods and professions.

The event takes over a long stretch of the National Mall outside the Smithsonian Castle, alongside the Arts and Industries Building and the Hirschorn Museum.

Dominating this year’s landscape will be the large Circus Sarasota tent that has welcomed thousands of visitors to winter performances on its home turf in Florida for the last 20 years. Pedro Reis, who founded what is now known as the Circus Arts Conservatory with his aerialist wife, Dolly Jacobs, is actively involved in planning for this year’s event and coordinating performances in the tent.

“When people come out of the Metro station, they will immediately see our big top,” Reis said.

The tent will host four performances each day, including daytime shows by the Sarasota Sailor Circus, the oldest youth circus in the country, and other youth and professional troupes. At night, Circus Sarasota will perform with an international array of talent during the first few days of the festival, and then will reprise this year’s Cirque des Voix show, which matches circus performers with an orchestra and the large vocal ensemble Key Chorale, conducted by Joseph Caulkins.

Jacobs, who received a 2015 National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Award — considered the highest honor in the folk and traditional arts — will be featured in all the Circus Sarasota-produced performances.

The tent also will be used for performances by other professional and youth circuses from around the country, including Circus Juventas, based in St. Paul, Minnesota, which was founded by Dan and Betty Butler, who met while performing in the Sarasota Sailor Circus.

Circus Sarasota clowns Karen Bell and Robin Eurich will set up a variation of their Marvelous, Miraculous Circus Machine, which uses circus arts to teach students about science.

Celebrating people

Scott said he initially had the idea of doing something about the “life and work of circus people, the grassroots creativity of these folks — not on a big show, the big companies — but from the grassroots, the people who make it all work,” he said. “Many of them are legacy families whose ancestors, grandfathers or great grandparents came from foreign countries. But they live here now.”

The Smithsonian had never done any kind of serious exploration of the circus before. “The question was, is there enough going on around the country to support and sustain a national program? The theory is that circus is on the way out the door.”

Despite the closing of the Greatest Show on Earth, that turned out not to be the case.

“We found some kind of programming in all 50 states,” Scott said, everything from Circus Smirkus in Vermont to the Circus Center in San Francisco.

“We’re discovering all these stories that were diverse and really interesting and with people who had one foot in both worlds. We always look for diversity, different ways of telling a story, showing different sides of the prism. We want to give people different points of view about a topic. This one has it in spades.”

A few years ago, there were only a handful of youth circuses across the country; now there are more than 250. A salute to youth circus will be held on the festival’s final day to give all the young performers “their moment in the big top. That’s our way of concluding the festival with a launch to the future,” Scott said.

The Circus Arts Conservatory is bringing dozens of performers and backstage workers and many supporters, who will be among the more than 400 participants in the festival. “That means an artist or a rigger or a person with a circus heritage,” Scott said. By comparison, when he curated the 2008 festival focusing on Bhutan, there were 150 participants.

A giant display

Exhibits and tents will stretch five blocks along the Mall, running the length of two football fields, with the Washington Monument and U.S. Capitol building in the distance on either end.

“Most everything happens outdoors. That was the intention when the festival started in 1967 — to use the Mall as a museum without walls, a living, breathing museum,” Scott said.

There will be indoor displays of aerial arts, where visitors can watch rehearsals and a circus school space will be set up inside the Arts and Industries Building.

“Kids will go crazy when they see the rigging,” Scott said.

There are 17 venues, including open-air aerial performances. Tino Wallenda and other family members are bringing a high wire and trapeze apparatus to perform in an outdoor circus ring that will be shared by different troupes. Wallenda also will set up a low-wire for demonstrations and master workshops for student performers.

There will be clown alley, juggling demonstrations, giant puppets, multi-purpose stages and a cookhouse for people “to learn about the history of food and circus culture and some amazing circus cooks. Most people don’t think about food at the circus except cotton candy. But we look at how do you feed all the performers. Where do the recipes come from?” Scott said.

A new view of circus

Deborah Walk — assistant director of legacy and circus at The Ringling, one of the festival presenters along with the Circus Arts Conservatory — said this year’s theme “was one of those breaking points where you could see the circus moving from something off to the side to gaining some of the respect that I think it deserves, not only as a profession, but also its cultural influence for this country. To me, it was something that I just felt The Ringling had to participate in.”

Walk will attend the festival, which begins with opening ceremonies June 28 and continues (with a day off July 5) through July 9. There also will be panel discussions on the past and future of the circus in the festival’s final days.

Dan Butler, who walked the high wire with his future wife at Sailor Circus, first started thinking about forming a youth circus program after attending a 1994 Sailor Circus reunion and performing his old hand-balancing and juggling acts in what’s affectionately known as the “Has-Been Show.”

The event transformed the Butlers’ lives. The director of a new recreation center two blocks from their home liked the idea of a youth circus program, and now Circus Juventas is in its 23rd year and has become the largest youth circus in the country with 1,000 full-time students and 40 employees. It will present its annual Cirque Nouveau show in Washington.

He said being asked to take part in the Smithsonian festival “was our greatest honor.”

Butler said there has been a renaissance in world circus with such groups as Cirque du Soleil, Cirque Ingenieux, Cirque Eloize and the Bindlestiff Family Circus, which have fueled an increasing popularity in youth circus programs.

“The traditions of the circus are really alive. For me, it’s a real tragedy that one of the oldest businesses in America — a 136-year-old company like Ringling Bros. — didn’t make it. It’s sad for traditionalists. But the youth circus growth has been explosive because it works. There’s something for everybody, every personality, body type.”

Reis said the festival represents a major change in attitudes toward the circus.

“When we first applied to the NEA for a grant, there was no circus arts category. Today there is. Dolly was the first circus artist ever to be recognized. When I first came to America in 1984, there were maybe three circus schools. Now I think there are 275 schools.

“The Ringling Bros. days may be over, but the circus industry is very much a breathing, living and growing art form. This festival will let people see it as I see it.”

Herald-Tribune June 24, 2017

Sarasota – 8 Al Fresco Dining Favorites

A short journey south of Sarasota provides for great outdoor dining, fresh seafood, live music and often…the wildlife encounter you might not have been expecting. Arrive to some by boat, or paddleboard for hand-crafted cocktails and tiki bars, popular drinks for breakfast and some Caribbean/Southern fusion.

1. At Flounders Restaurant and Tiki Bar, the tiki bar, crackling fire pits, live music and water view set the mood. With pub grub fare like “Wing It,” “Bite It,” “Shuck It,” and “Build It,” the menu makes it easy. Just grab a Technicolor libation and get social. Or come for breakfast (Saturdays and Sundays) and indulge in one of the popular breakfast cocktails, like the Tiki Mary, a spicy hot powerhouse created with jalapeño-infused Ketel One vodka and garnished with blue cheese-stuffed olives, pepperoncini, jalapeño bacon and a Cajun rim. The ideal eye-opener. 1975 Beach Road, Englewood. 

2. Beach Road Wine Bar and Bistro is called Englewood’s jewel by the sea for many good reasons. A selection of more than 60 exceptional vintages, the culinary delights of a chef-driven menu, the jaw-dropping views of Lemon Bay—and the spirit of camaraderie that enlivens on the outside patio. How to add to that? On many evenings, there’s a soundtrack of live music by regional musicians. 1350 Beach Road, Englewood.

3. The inventive menu at Farlow’s on the Water marries Caribbean classics with down-home Southern cuisine. This fusion reflects the heritage of Keith Farlow, who grew up in St. Croix, and his wife, Laurie, who glories in the tastes of Dixie. Ask for a table on the comfortable outdoor patio and dig into some corn pudding or sizzling St. Croix seafood pie. You can also grab a table overlooking Ainger Creek, and watch Florida’s natural beauty unfold before your eyes. 2080 S. McCall Road, Englewood.

4. Keep your eyes peeled for gators, otters, eagles and other wild critters at Myakka River Oyster Bar Seafood Restaurant, which sits smack-dab on the Myakka River. Going on 23 years, JoAnn and Mike Stegenga have kept folks well-fed with daily specials, fresh seafood, pasta and sandwiches. Although most fish is regionally sourced, the walleye special is an exception, created from the recipe of Mike’s mother. “Lots of people from Minnesota come here just for the walleye,” says JoAnn. With just six outside tables, come early to claim your perch. 121 Playmore Drive, Venice.

5. People-watching is an art. Begin your life studies at one of Ristorante San Marco’s sidewalk tables. This charming Italian trattoria offers front row seats on fashionable Venice Avenue. Don a white suit and your jet-black Wayfarers, order a bottle of Camigliano Brunello di Montalcino and pretend you’re the star of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. Just watch out for paparazzi. 305B W. Venice Ave.

6. Envision yourself sipping a chilled Lillet on the terrace of a Monte Carlo brasserie overlooking the Mediterranean. Lost your passport? The Crow’s Nest affords you similar bliss closer to home. Kick back with a chilled fumé blanc from Sonoma and watch the pleasure boats sailing down Venice Inlet. If you’re with your special someone, order a dozen oysters from the raw bar and embark on a romantic interlude as the sun makes its sensational descent. 1968 Tarpon Center Drive, Venice.

7. The outside deck at Fins at Sharky’s boasts picture-postcard views of the Gulf of Mexico and Venice Fishing Pier, a tranquil ambiance, an award-winning menu and wine selection and sexy craft cocktails like the Cucumber Caroline with Pimms and rosemary-infused syrup. With patio fans and a retractable screen shielding wind and direct sunlight, you’ve got it made in the shade. There are only 18 outside tables, so best to reserve ahead of time. 1600 Harbor Drive S., Venice.

8. Old Florida is alive and well at the Casey Key Fish House, a bustling waterside joint in Osprey famed for its laid-back ambiance, solid seafood offerings, gorgeous views, and tiki bar with live music on the weekends. Grab a table on the deck and dig into such signature dishes as Chef Willie Tia’s raved-about bouillabaisse, mussels slathered in the house-made marinara sauce, and the conch fritters. If you’re feeling adventurous, rent a jet ski, paddleboard or kayak right on the dock. Or wander down to the beachside tiki bar and meet some new friends. 801 Blackburn Point Road, Osprey.

Sarasota Magazine, March 2017

Sarasota – The Best Place to Live

best placesSarasota is the best place in Florida to call home.
U.S. News & World Report placed the Sarasota metro area No. 21, ahead of any other place in Florida, for its 100 Best Places to Live in the USA.

Indeed, the biggest factor affecting the ranking is net migration, which ranks 10 on a one-to-10 scale of the criteria U.S. News & World Report uses to judge each metro area. Here is how the area scored in each variable:

Desirability: 8.2

Value: 5.1

Job market: 6.1

Quality of life: 7.4

Net migration: 10

Sarasota remains the only Florida city in the top 25, outpacing Tampa by 14 places. Houston, Texas scored one place ahead of Sarasota, while San Diego Calif. came in at No. 22.

What makes Sarasota so special?

Let’s take a look:

  1. Weather: You could say this about any coastal place in the state but having lived under the gray skies of Pennsylvania and in cold Colorado, let me tell you, that nearly daily dose of sunshine and utter lack of freezing cold temperatures is the No. 1 reason people from the rest of the country continue to relocate here as if we were giving away oceanfront property.
  2. Beaches: Yes, there’s a reason our sugary white sands such as the ones found on Siesta Beach are consistently ranked among the best in the country. I really didn’t appreciate this until I spent a year living on Newport Beach in Southern California, where, to quote Bill Hicks, the beach just looks like “where dirt meets water.”
  3. Restaurants: I can walk to a handful of excellent and a couple dozen really good restaurants from our office in downtown Sarasota. There’s many, many more choice spots within a short drive. It’s hard to imagine a city this size anywhere else in the country that has as many outstanding dining options. Also, let’s not forget about the award-winning Sarasota craft beers being served at these restaurants and the clever cocktails are local bartenders are creating.
  4. Arts scene: It’s also hard to imagine another city the size of Sarasota with such a vibrant arts scene. Take your pick: museums, art galleries, orchestras, opera, ballet, professional and community theater companies. Plus, our live music scene includes some of the best blues and roots rock musicians in the country. Really, we have it all.
  5. Parks and preserves: While the beaches are the celebrities, places like Phillippi Estate Park, Rothenbach Park and Celery Fields are equally charming in their own way.
  6. Things to do: Every week I easily assemble at least 10 fun things for people to do in the Sarasota area. Just looking at March we have spring training, two film festivals, and an appearance by Emmy and Tony Award winning actress and singer Kristin Chenoweth on March 12 at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, which in a single weekend last month hosted Dave Chappelle, and Steve Martin with Martin Short.
  7. Celebrities: Look, even if you never run intoStephen King at the local bookstoreor have lunch next to Jerry Springer, it’s nice to know celebrities do live here. I mean if it’s good enough for them, it must be good enough for us regular folks, right? And, who knows? I did once witness two other Sarasota celebrities, rock legends Brian Johnson (AC/Dc) and Dickey Betts (Allman Brothers Band), playing together at a fundraiser in the Five O’Clock Club!

Herald Tribune, Sarasota Observer, March 3, 2017

Water Taxi – Downtown Sarasota Transportation Solutions

The Sarasota City Commission recently voted to conditionally approve a permit for a water taxi and ferry service between Sarasota and Bradenton Beach. Sherman Baldwin, general manager of Paradise Boat Tours, presented the water taxi and ferry plan and applied for a permit under Paradise’s parent company, TevaTan LLC, in early January. On Tuesday, the commission voted to approve the permit application with the following stipulations:

  • The water ferry’s Sarasota embarkation points will be determined within a period of six months from Tuesday; and
  • Baldwin will meet with Sarasota Bayfront 20:20, a long-term planning organization, to assure the Sarasota embarkation points have enough associated parking nearby.

Baldwin’s permit application was two-fold; to allow for a scheduled water ferry service as well as an “Uber-like” water taxi, on call via a mobile app that Baldwin said his company spent “thousands” developing.

Starting the water ferry service with the Bradenton Beach-Sarasota route made the most logistical sense, Baldwin said. “If we have one successful leg, it will make it really easy to justify the risk.”  “There’s a navigational plus to it, too; it’s kind of a straight shot. From the Bridge Street Pier, you can see downtown Sarasota.”

Come fall, Baldwin wants to start more water transport service that would ferry passengers between the downtown Bradenton Riverwalk, Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key. Baldwin is also involved in “informal conversations” to help orchestrate a water taxi service in association with the Bradenton Area Convention Center hotel, which is set to break ground on Sept. 18.

Planned Operation
The ferry will run from the Bridge Street Pier to one of three embarkation points in Sarasota. Baldwin provided three suggested points to the Sarasota City Commission, which has the ultimate say in which of the three will be chosen. The possible destinations include the T-dock at O’Leary’s Tiki Bar & Grill, the Marina Jack boat basin, or the Centennial Park boat basin. He favors the Centennial Park option, but for it to work, a sublease must be negotiated under the current lease between the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 84 and the city of Sarasota.

The water taxi service will operate daily at a round-trip ticket cost of $12.50, with passes available for locals who frequently travel between Sarasota and Bradenton Beach. The boat will have air conditioning and heating systems, two restrooms and a small coffee cafe. The seating will be covered, but Baldwin said there will be an outside area for passengers who want to enjoy the sea breeze.

“We don’t have plans right out of the gate to serve alcohol,” Baldwin said, but passengers are allowed to bring their own beverages and food on board.

Paradise Boat Tours
Paradise Boat Tours will celebrate its fifth year in business in June. Baldwin estimates they serve 20,000 passengers per year on 90-minute narrated dolphin-spotting and sightseeing tours.

In an email to the Sarasota City Commission, Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon said TevaTan is “fully authorized to use the Bridge Street Pier, Bradenton Beach as an embarkation point for his Ferry Service.” The Manatee County Tourist Development Council also submitted a letter to the Sarasota City Commission supporting the water taxi.

John Horne, CEO of AMOB on the Pier restaurant, located on Bridge Street, said he’s “proud of what Sherman’s doing.”  “The county has already come up with a free trolley on the island so if we can get people there by water we will have less vehicles on the island and it cuts the traffic down,” Horne said. “I think it’s great to be able to connect Manatee and Sarasota and what better way to do it then across Sarasota Bay.”

Bradenton Herald, February 21, 2017



Sarasota Working on Transportation Downtown and on Siesta Key

srq-trolley-sarasota transportationCity and county leaders are on the verge of hailing new, creative efforts to reduce traffic congestion in downtown Sarasota and on Siesta Key.

In Sarasota, city leaders are nearing the end of negotiations on a deal to provide seed funding for a new electric-vehicle shuttle service around downtown.

On Siesta Key, Sarasota County Area Transit leaders are accepting bids for a company to provide a new open-air trolley service along the key from the village to Turtle Beach, with numerous stops in between.

If both plans go off without a hitch, free or cheap rides around Main Street and across most of Siesta Key could be available as early as February – ideally encouraging more visitors and local drivers to opt out of their own cars and onto the shuttle or trolley, leaders said last week.

Both ideas are years in the making and both aim to reduce traffic and open more parking spaces by giving visitors more easier, cheaper options than driving themselves to every location across the key and downtown.

“We’re getting so close now that we’re really excited this could be a really good opportunity for everybody,” SCAT spokeswoman Kendra Kiederling said.

City planners and Downtown Improvement District operations manager John Moran are finalizing negotiations this month with electric shuttle vendor Gotcha Ride. The free service would include six to nine, six-seat electric shuttles that could be hailed on a mobile app to ferry residents, visitors and workers around downtown without moving their cars.

To “kick start” the project, the city is preparing to spend $548,000 over the next two years to fund initial operations and set up the shuttles with chargers and parking in the Palm Avenue parking garage, Moran said. After two years, if the pilot program succeeds, Gotcha Ride would fund the operation by selling advertising on the cars – with design modeled after NASCAR race car sponsorships.

Gotcha Ride largely serves college campuses and operates throughout the southeast, including at Florida State University and the University of Florida, according to its website. The group is the second option after Downtowner, a similar company which established its first shuttle service in Delray Beach and is moving into Tampa later this year, decided Sarasota “wasn’t a good fit” for its service, Moran said.

“I hope, fingers crossed, we’re going to have a successful negotiation with this group” Gotcha Ride, Moran said. “They happen to have just ordered 12 vehicles, so they would be ready to go fairly quickly after City Commission approval of the contract.”

Moran hopes to present the contract and pilot program to the City Commission right after the New Year’s, which could bring shuttles to the city as soon as February.

That would be about the earliest that SCAT’s new trolley system could begin operation, too, Kiederling said. The county opened bids for that service late last month and will accept applications essentially through the end of the year.

The trolley concept – in the style of a classic city trolley, not an electric shuttle – has long been sought by the Siesta Key Association and Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce as a means to convert drivers to riders to reduce congestion.

The plan would involve consolidating one of the bus routes on the key now, stretching south along Beach and Midnight Pass roads from the village area to Turtle Beach and back, Kiederling said. The trolley would be active for about six months each year during the tourist season, she added.

“If this comes to fruition, we could get something maybe in February and March,” Kiederling said. “This next spring wouldn’t be the whole season, but we just want to get it out there and try it anyway.”

Herald Tribune December 11, 2016