Weighing in on a place he cherishes and helps nurture
Jon Thaxton is senior vice-president for community investment with the Venice-based Gulf Coast Community Foundation. The organization has been named one of the “best nonprofits to work for” nationally by The NonProfit Times in 2010, 2011, 2017, 2020, and 2021.
It is the philanthropic home of more than 1,000 families that have created their own charitable funds here, and together more $400 million in grants has been invested in the areas of health and human services, civic and economic development, education, arts and culture, and the environment.
Q: As a Sarasota native, what does Siesta Key mean to you personally?
A: As a 5-year-old child, I learned to swim in a YMCA program at Siesta Key Public Beach. The “Y” used the Gulf as they did not yet have a swimming pool. When I was a teenager in the early 1970s, Siesta Key was always a hot spot for parties and other activities best not mentioned here.
And then finally, as a mostly responsible adult, I knew Siesta Key as a great place for hooking up with a tarpon or a working waterfront real-estate sale as a Realtor.
Many generations of my family have shown off Siesta Key to first-time visitors to the area because of its natural beauty and cultural attractions.
Q: Among your areas of expertise are water quality and land use. How does Siesta Key stand in regard to those issues?
A: Water quality: With limited green open space, the challenges associated with the man-made dredged Grant Canal, an archaic stormwater system, and the desire for ever-green lawns, Siesta Key has no shortage of water-quality challenges. If one were to deliberately plan a community that would have the extraordinary negative impacts to water quality, Siesta Key could act as the model.
Because many residents chose Siesta Key for its natural beauty, there are now several attempts to figuratively turn back the hands of time, and literally correct the mistakes of the past.
Land use: Sarasota is fortunate to have five barrier islands (counting Siesta and Casey keys individually) that have five distinctive personalities. These personalities contribute to Sarasota’s being one of the most attractive places to live in the world.
Siesta Key residents and Siesta Key fans are right to fight to preserve those amenities that keep Siesta Key different, funky, attractive, and a fun place to live, work, and play. Keep up the fight!
Q: What is the greatest threat facing Siesta Key today and in the future?
A: Without clean and healthy waterways including the bays, canals, and Gulf of Mexico, Siesta Key will suffer in many ways.
Similarly, if Siesta Key becomes just another cookie-cutter tourist destination, which is sure to be lost with over-development, one of the historic and culturally significant places on the west coast of Florida will be irretrievably lost.
I don’t mean to be overly dramatic here, but these are both clear and present threats.
Q: Conversely, what do you see as Siesta Key’s greatest strengths in looking to the future?
A: Just as a precious jewel attains its value through scarcity, Siesta Key’s strengths are attributed in the same way. The primary source of Siesta Key’s strength is found in the amenities it offers to its visitors and residents that cannot be found elsewhere.
These strengths, such as Siesta Village, Crescent Beach, Point of Rocks, and amazing waterfront living, are strengths that cannot be cumulatively recreated or duplicated elsewhere and cannot afford to be squandered.
Q: What do you consider the foundation’s most significant investments in Siesta Key? And what have its residents meant to your organization?
A: When I review the relationship between Gulf Coast Community Foundation and Siesta Key, I could talk about our water-quality improvement participation with homeowners groups, or the Siesta Beach turtle sculpture design to educate beachgoers about the importance of keeping plastics out of our beautiful Gulf of Mexico. But, the true value of our relationship is found in the bond that Siesta Key philanthropists have created with Gulf Coast. Their passion for preserving Sarasota, helping the under-served and children in our community, preserving our natural environment, and enhancing educational opportunities for all, is a relationship that cannot be assessed in terms of dollars and cents, but can only be valued by assessing the numerous benefits — not just to Siesta Key, but our entire community.
Q: As a former Sarasota commissioner and in your current role, you maintain a very public presence. Do you plan to seek public office on the local, state, or federal level?
A: No. I maintain a “public presence” to advance the goals established by the Gulf Coast Community Foundation Board of Directors. I look forward to retiring and becoming irrelevant.