Good Impressions, Real Concerns
Last week, several of our local business people, among whom were representatives from Charley's Boathouse, Holiday Court, Smokin' Oyster Brewery, Fish Tale Marina, The Holiday Inn, Krusty Pete's, VIP Realty, The Outrigger and Nervous Nellie's, were invited to speak face-to-face with State Senator Elizabeth Benacquisto, State Representative Ray Rodrigues, Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker, Fort Myers Beach Mayor Alan Mandel and Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane about the economic impacts their businesses have sustained as a result of this summer's Lake Okeechobee water releases.
The round-table discussion was hosted by the Pink Shell Resort and Ellis Etter, Regional Director of Sales and Marketing for the Boykin Management Company. There were several other islanders, Town staff and local officials in attendance, most notably Bud Nocera, President of the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce, who was instrumental in bringing the business owners to the table. Nancy McPhee from the Lee County Visitors and Convention Bureau also joined the discussion.
As each of the business representatives offered statistics and experiences with the negative impressions expressed by their guests and clients again and again, it was clear the problem is affecting every echelon of life on our island. Cancellations, shortened stays, and lower numbers told the tale.
We asked several of the participants in the discussion to give some feedback as to how effective they believed the meeting had been, and if they believed it had been worth the time away from their businesses.
"Absolutely," says Karen Swanbeck (VIP Realty), President-elect of the Realtor Association of Greater Fort Myers and the Beach. "It was a great opportunity to speak with them, face-to-face. Having local, county and state officials together showing their concern for this issue was really helpful."
Dave Anderson (Krusty Pete's), who also happens to be the Beach Chamber's Treasurer, thinks it was great that the public officials came and listened to our community personally. "I'm not really sure what they can do. We don't have that much time to fix this. It is an eco-disaster that is happening right now. Hopefully, they can do some quick fixes to alleviate the problem while the long-term fixes are figured out."
Ellis Etter (Pink Shell) voiced his concerns during the discussion, but feels it was a good exchange."It allowed us to share our concerns with officials at the county and state level." Like Dave Anderson, he doesn't expect fast results."It's not going to happen overnight."
The fact that Senator Benacquisto has come to Fort Myers Beach on several occasions to familiarize herself with our community and our concerns is a big plus as far as one participant is concerned. "I really applaud her attention and the steps she has taken on our behalf," says Al Durrett (Fish Tale Marina). Durrett emphasized that everyone should put their energy toward bringing everyone together over this critical issue. "I had a chance to speak with Governor Scott when he was in Fort Myers, and I told him that my wife Kathy and I had not come to protest, but that we wanted to offer our help, to find out what we could do." As far as the discussion at the Pink Shell last week, Al says, "I'm elated by it.I think the meeting was held and attended by people who really care about our quality of life. Those officials coming together to address this is a real positive for our island and for San Carlos Island too."
Restaurant manager Steve DeAngelis (Nervous Nellie's) says he was glad he took the time to take part in the discussion. "It showed that our local officials have concern for this problem, but I was hoping to hear more information about immediate action that could be taken."
The man who brought the business folks to the discussion, Bud Nocera, believes that it is important to give them an opportunity to speak personally with their elected officials, especially in a crisis such as the one we've been dealing with for so long."I really think everyone who was seated at the head table is truly concerned. The meeting didn't solve the problem, but it helped. It's not a new problem, and we've got to stay energized and keep this momentum going."