Inside the Fleming file

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New Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce president shares his viewpoints on various topics

By Ned Steele

“We’re a magical place and people want to be here,” says Eric Fleming, the new president of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, summing up the joys and occasional challenges of life on the slice of beach paradise we call home.

Fleming, a local attorney, began a two-year term as chamber president in January. It’s his second time at the helm of the organization, reprising his 2019 presidency.

A fifth-generation Floridian born and raised in Lakeland, Fleming, 42, moved here in 2006 after law school. Today he shares life on the Key with his wife, Jordan, son Sawyer,10, and daughter Sailor, 9. With a law practice located next door to the chamber’s former offices, it was a natural for Fleming to get involved with the chamber: Its then-leaders asked him for help back in 2016 on some legal matters, and the rest is history.

The Siesta Sand talked with Fleming as the organization was preparing for its move.

Siesta Sand: Are you starting your term with any initiatives in mind?

Fleming: “We’ve started a steering committee. We’re looking to make sure we’ve got a clear path of where the chamber is, and where it’s going. We are getting more and more involved in government affairs, relationships, and trying to work on our relationship with (Sarasota) county commissioners and with other stakeholders, in and around Siesta Key.”

Siesta Sand: It seems that at the county commission, Mark Smith always votes to support the Key as a lone voice. What are your thoughts about that, and what would you like to see the relationship be between the business community and the commission be?

Fleming: You’ve got to absolutely commend Commissioner Smith. It can’t be easy to be on the losing end of 4-to-1 votes multiple times. He always follows his moral compass. I can’t speak for the other commissioners as to why they’ve voted the way they’ve voted, but I would certainly welcome the opportunity to discuss the issues as they come up, and to have more regular meetings with [them]. Pre-COVID, we would have regular meetings with some of the commissioners. We’d like to get back to more of these face-to-face meetings. I think it would be beneficial to all sides.

Siesta Sand: What else might be ahead for the chamber’s agenda?

Fleming: Right now, we are focused on getting our new building finalized, finished, and moved in to. Once the paint’s dry and the ribbon’s cut, we can focus on other issues. We’re evaluating the events we currently have, and looking to either expand or add to them. We’ve gotten away from Siesta Fiesta and we are looking to possibly find something to replace that — not Siesta Fiesta per se but another fun community-type event.

Siesta Sand: A guest editorial in our pages last month said that recently visitors and developers have been prioritized over taxpaying residents, and that “It’s time to turn the pendulum back.” What’s your reaction?

Fleming: “We do prioritize visitors — not above residents or above everybody else — but visitors are certainly a priority because of the nature of the island. We are a destination for people to have amazing vacations on the best beaches on the planet. Certainly, visitors should be a priority. They, in a lot of ways, are the life blood to the local economy. As far as prioritizing developers, I can’t really speak to that because I don’t think that that’s happened.

Siesta Sand: What’s the chamber’s current stand on hotel development?

Fleming: “We are for transient accommodations on the Key. We are not for unlimited density. We want reasonable, controlled growth.

“We put forward a plan to the county commissioners that did not move forward, for 52 units per acre — exactly double the current allowed density of 26. They called for a hard cap of 75 units. This would allow for boutique hotels, which we think the Key would thrive with. We feel that the nature of boutique hotels would fit with the characteristics of Siesta Key. We’re not against hotels. We’re for hotels. We’re just against the unlimited density portion of it.”

Siesta Sand: How should the chamber balance the possibility of more national chain retail coming in, and the concern of small establishments that they could get pushed out?

Fleming: I think there is a balance. I think it’s good that if there is a [retail] vacancy that we fill them with high-quality tenants, whether that’s a national chain or that’s another mom and pop. We want high quality businesses here that serve the customer’s needs.

Ned Steele
Author: Ned Steele

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