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Village Association discussion arises over seafood festival planned on Siesta Public Beach in December

By Rachel Brown Hackney

Members of the Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA) made it clear during their July meeting that they are not pleased with the concept of the Siesta Beach Seafood & Music Festival, scheduled for Dec. 3-4 on Siesta Public Beach.  The event “was brought to our attention by accident, actually,” SKVA President Wendall Jacobsen announced during the organization’s monthly session. A form someone had provided to the SKVA showed the festival is being planned by Paragon Fine Art Festivals, which is headed by Siesta resident Bill Kinney.

None of the SKVA members had heard about the event until someone had passed along the form, Jacobsen noted. Ann Frescura, executive director of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber had not received any formal information about the festival, either. When Michael Shay, the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp. liaison, asked whether Paragon had obtained a county permit for the December event, Jacobsen replied that he did not know. SNL learned from county spokesman Drew Winchester on July 6 that Paragon has made a reservation for use of the beach and has paid a $500 deposit. The total for fees and tax will be $2,479.87. Among the details found on the Paragon Fine Art Festival website are that the event will be held from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 3, and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 4.

The description notes, “The event is a unique blending of food, music and visual entertainment affording attendees a potpourri of delectable seafood creations and delicious drinks prepared by the top restaurants in Siesta Key and Sarasota. Combined with the mouth-watering foods will be outstanding musical performances by local and regional [musicians] in a diversity of genres from Scottish [bagpipes] and classical [quartets] to bands of various flavors: rock-and-roll, jazz, calypso and reggae. Another integral component is an extraordinary outdoor gallery of fine arts and crafts by artisans from around the nation. If you are a fine artisan or craft vendor consider becoming part of this event and broadening your market base in Florida.” The website also indicates general admission will be free, but VIP tent access will cost $50. SKVA Director Russell Matthes, co-owner of the Daiquiri Deck restaurants, pointed out during the meeting that Paragon also has scheduled events on St. Armands Circle and in downtown Sarasota and St. Petersburg during 2017. “It takes a little away from businesses,” he pointed out of plans for the seafood festival on the Key.

During a July 6 telephone interview, Kinney told the SNL he has been planning the Siesta Beach event for more than a year. “We’ve done plenty of outreach with the businesses,” he added. He originally proposed the festival as an alternative to Siesta Fiesta, he explained, having discussed that prospect with SKVA Vice President Mark Smith of Smith Architects in May 2015, as detailed in an email Kinney provided.

Paragon conducted its first Sarasota Seafood and Music Festival in downtown Sarasota in January in collaboration with the Sarasota Downtown Merchants Association. Ron Soto, chair of that organization, wrote in his March message to members, “With literally thousands of attendees, the two-day event was a home run for the SDMA, thanks to Bill Kinney and Paragon Events, the festival’s producers.”

Kinney told SNL he had signed up about five seafood restaurants so far for the Siesta dates, including Walt’s Fish Market and Restaurant. He pointed out, though, that it was early in the planning process.

Given that this would be a for-profit event, Matthes said during the SKVA meeting, he felt it would set a bad precedent for Siesta Public Beach. He added that he did not believe the Daiquiri Deck, Captain Curt’s Crab & Oyster Bar and other seafood restaurants on the Key would participate in it, “when we have our own brick-and-mortar right here …” “This is a money-making option for these folks,” SKVA Vice President Smith concurred with Matthes.

After SKVA members were able to learn more about the proposal for the event, Matthes said, they would report on their findings.

Sheriff’s Office finds a better way to manage beach parking lot traffic on the Fourth

With construction of the Siesta Public Beach upgrades still underway over July Fourth in 2015, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office observed a bit of a lull in the usual holiday traffic and crowd issues, Deputy Chris McGregor told about 15 people during the July SKVA meeting. This year, he continued, “it was a very, very busy Fourth of July.” On July 4, he pointed out, the parking lots at Siesta Public Beach were already full between 8:30 and 9 a.m.

However, with extra Sheriff’s Office personnel on hand, McGregor explained, deputies “were able to regulate the parking lot a little bit. … Instead of the fights and the disturbances we would normally have over a busy beach weekend, we had none in the parking lot.”

During an interview after the meeting, McGregor explained that as soon as deputies saw the parking areas were full, they prevented vehicles from entering them. Then, whenever an officer saw vehicles leaving, the officer would communicate that fact to other deputies, who would allow in exactly the number of vehicles to replace those that had departed.

He explained that underage possession of alcohol and disorderly conduct typically are the situations that lead to arrests during a big holiday gathering on the beach.

Regarding the annual fireworks display: “It was an outstanding, outstanding show last night,” Siesta Chamber Executive Director Frescura reported, noting, “We have received pledges that are on target for our goal” to pay for the display.

An arrest in beach thefts

As for crime in general on the Key: McGregor told the SKVA members that the Sheriff’s Office recently had registered an uptick in thefts of personal property left unattended on the beach. However, a woman was arrested in connection with those incidents after she used a credit or debit card that had been reported stolen, he added.

Expanded Siesta Fiesta planned again in 2017

In the aftermath of the most recent Siesta Fiesta — held April 9-10 — discussion ensued among SKVA members about whether to continue to restrict the event to the sidewalks, as the organization did this year, or let it take over part of Ocean Boulevard, as it has in the past. Based on feedback, SKVA Director Matthes reported during the July meeting, the event next year will entail a street closure once again.

The SKVA has signed contracts with Howard Alan Events & American Craft Endeavors to hold Siesta Fiesta April 29-30 in 2017; the Siesta Key Craft Festival — in its 20th incarnation, the SKVA website notes — will be held Feb. 25-26, 2017, Matthes said. The Craft Festival vendors do not set up booths in the street. During the SKVA’s general meeting in August, Matthes continued, he plans to ask for volunteers to serve on a committee “to attempt to liven [Siesta Fiesta] up a little bit,” perhaps with musical groups and/or a designated area for wine and beer sales.

A ‘heads up’ from Code Enforcement

Sarasota County Code Enforcement Officer Kevin Burns stopped by a number of Village restaurants before the July Fourth holiday weekend to let staff members know he had heard a “lot of complaints” about noise emanating from the businesses, “which was news to me,” SKVA Director Russell Matthes said during the July SKVA meeting.

In response to a question from Matthes, Deputy Chris McGregor of the Sheriff’s Office reported that even though he usually goes off duty at 6 p.m., he had not heard anything about such complaints and he felt he would have. “He was actually pretty pleasant,” Stephanie Brown, general manager of the Siesta Key Oyster Bar, said of Burns when he stopped at that dining establishment. Burns explained that he had walked through the Village the previous Saturday, she continued, and had heard loud music.

Matthes added that he had phoned Burns and felt the visits to the restaurants to be Burns’ way of saying, “Hey, I’m here.” Burns promised to attend the August SKVA meeting, Matthes noted.

Burns originally won approval from the County Commission in August 2012 to handle overtime work for Code Enforcement, starting in the 2013 fiscal year. Rob Lewis, then-director of the Planning and Development Services Department, proposed Burns for the assignment, though the board’s decision specifically was to allow 10 to 12 hours of overtime per week for Code Enforcement in general. The vote followed numerous complaints about noise late at night and on the weekends in Siesta Village.

Monthly Meetings

SKVA meetings are held the first Tuesday of each month at the Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar. Meetings begin at 8:30 a.m. anyone interested in learning more about Siesta Key Village is encouraged to attend. For more information visit their website: 

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