Mannix About Manatee: Can coastal resort mesh with Old Florida?

July 14, 2013 

The view from the rickety dock was so peaceful on those Sunday afternoons.

The idle fishing boats, the wildlife, the mangroves -- even the abandoned houseboat -- were aglow in the fading sunlight around the northern rim of Sarasota Bay.

This is living, I'd think behind Alcee and Plum Taylor's old two-story house in Cortez, visiting the gracious couple my first few years here.

Alcee's gone now and it may be a blessing.

Long Bar Pointe, the coastal resort Carlos Beruff and Larry Lieberman have proposed, must have the feisty Cortezian spinning in his grave.

Beruff got an earful at a town hall meeting last Thursday evening from Cortez folks -- Alcee's widow among them -- and other area residents up in arms about the project and its impact on their corner of paradise.

The lack of air conditioning and spirited discourse made for a heated two-plus hours in the packed Fishermen's Hall.

Beruff can be blunt, but even he had to be impressed by the candor of the opposition.

Will it do any good?

We'll see.

Beruff is used to getting his way.

He's a businessman who's got serious juice.

He's a big campaign donor for the governor, who has, in turn, appointedhim to several boards -- i.e., State College ofFlorida, Southwest Florida Water Management District.

He's also spread campaign donations around to several Manatee County commissioners.

How that will play out on the Long Bar Pointe project, only time will tell.

I'm intrigued by the plan's potential and what it can do for the community, especially economically.

Beruff called it a destination.

I like the sound of it and want to see where this process leads.

But not at the expense of the native environment.

Just last Tuesday an Environmental Defense Fund study said wildlife tourism draws 20 million people annually to Florida and four other Gulf states annually.

Manatee County receives a steady share of that business in part because of government policies that protect the environment.

That includes our end of Sarasota Bay, a tranquil piece of Old Florida.

Once it's removed, it's gone.

Beruff said doing the right thing environmentally is foremost in their project's plans, although 225 linear feet of mangroves will be destroyed and dredging is anticipated, too.

There was one juncture of the meeting that was telling.

Karen Bell, owner of A.P. Bell Fish Company in Cortez, spoke in heartfelt terms about what the historic fishing village and its ancient trade have meant to generations of Cortezians like her.

It's all we have, she said.

Moments later Beruff talked about the wonder a child would experience seeing a five-star hotel for the first time, an attraction the developers want for Long Bar Pointe.

There was an audible groan where I sat in the audience.

Alcee Taylor's ghost was probably grumbling, too.

Mannix About Manatee, by columnist Vin Mannix, is about people and issues in Manatee County. Call Vin at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix.

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