Best and Worst of 2011

By Ashton Goggans & Susan Burns November 30, 2011

“BRRR... IT’S COLD HERE IN CONNECTICUT.”It was a year of big events, so if you kept feeling at the precipice of a life-altering moment, you’re not alone. The S & P downgraded U.S. debt for the first time, our political parties put the stock market in a tailspin when they gridlocked over the deficit, and then Europe hit the skids over its own borrowing woes. U.S. poverty hit a record high at the same time corporate profits soared. This fall’s Occupy Wall Street went global, signaling worldwide social stress. Sarasota and Manatee experienced their own big ups and downs this year as well, from the frenzied—and failed—effort to land Jackson Labs to the waves of tourists who washed up on America’s new best beach. Here’s a look back at the victories, defeats and business milestones that kept us all spinning this year.



Jackson Lab

Sarasota County residents thought they’d hooked the big one when Jackson Laboratory—a Maine-based genetic researcher known for its specially bred mice—announced last March that it had selected Sarasota as the site of its new personalized medicine institute. Proponents (who included a unique partnership of the University of South Florida, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation and Sarasota Memorial Hospital and business leaders) gushed about thousands of new jobs and Jackson’s ability to make the region a biomedical hub. The catch? Jackson wanted $300 million in state, local and private incentives. Opponents decried the use of taxpayer dollars and Jackson’s lack of skin in the game. But Gov. Scott and the Florida legislature didn’t support the investment, and Jackson took its mice to Connecticut instead.




Community collaboration

Jackson Lab moved on, but the region was left with a sense of possibility after seeing local community leaders come together. Gulf Coast Community Foundation’s Teri Hansen, USF’s Judy Genshaft and Sarasota Memorial Hospital’s Gwen McKenzie, along with county and city officials and business leaders, now know how much individual power can be leveraged when everyone throws their hat into the ring.




Jim Ley and Sarasota County’s purchasing fiasco

A criminal investigation into charges that county workers were accepting bribes from companies in exchange for awarding construction contracts ended the career of longtime Sarasota County Administrator Jim Ley and 10 other county workers. It also triggered audits, left taxpayers seething and county government desperately trying to get its house in order. Alachua County Administrator Randall Reid was chosen to replace Ley.





The number of jobs lost in Sarasota and Manatee since 2007.





That’s the number of jobs Gov. Rick Scott came into office promising to create in seven years—his “7-7-7” plan. He seemed to backtrack in October when he said he didn’t mean that these 700,000 jobs would be in addition to the normal job growth, just that he would create that many jobs “no matter what the economy might otherwise gain or lose.” So far, the numbers do show progress. Unemployment was 10.3 percent in October, lower than the 11.9 percent when Scott took office. The real problem is there’s no way to ever know how many new jobs have been created by Scott’s policy changes vs. normal market forces.



In late August METI (Medical Educational Technologies Inc.), which produces human patient simulators for medical research, was acquired by Montreal-based CAE Inc. The Canadian buyer plans to use the company as a jumping off point for expanding this small but potentially lucrative industry. CAE will move an existing company currently operating out of San Jose, Calif., to the facilities in Sarasota.




The Tourist

Economic development types keep saying Sarasota and Manatee should be emphasizing industries other than tourism, but never underestimate the power of our visitors, with their love of beaches, sun and shopping. Florida had a good year for tourism, and Sarasota and Manatee had a banner summer. To what should we attribute this sun-kissed year? Dr. Beach’s No. 1 ranking of Siesta Beach (see “Best Accolade”), of course, and a lot of pent-up demand.




Benderson Park Rowing FacilitySports are becoming a big economic driver in the region. Benderson Park Rowing Facility is attracting thousands of athletes and fans and hopes to attract international regattas as well. Manatee County has also jumped in with its rowing plaza and launch area along the Manatee River. Baseball fans are thrilled to have the Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates and Bradenton Marauders. Bradenton’s IMG Academies and Lakewood Ranch’s Premiere Sports Campus are drawing young athletes to their world-class training facilities and playing fields. And businesses like Coastal Orthopedics, which specializes in state-of-the-art sports medicine, are finding new market niches.




The crime thriller Parker, starring Jennifer Lopez, was filmed at Ca’ d’Zan in September and brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars in direct spending. Ringling College of Art and Design’s Digital Filmmaking Studio Lab brought in celebs such as Bill Paxton and Martha Stewart to work with students (and impress donors). Legendary documentarian Werner Herzog has agreed to a long-term relationship with the school, and worked with students on his new project, Into the Abyss. Sanborn Studios was in the spotlight early in the year, after winning more than $1 million in local incentives for its super-ambitious plans for a TV series and the promise of lots of jobs. So far, neither has occurred.



Best Beach in America

On May 27, just 13 months after the Deepwater Horizon spill cast a dark cloud over Sarasota and the rest of the Gulf Coast, Dr. Beach named Siesta Key the “Best Beach in America”—a title that previously belonged to Cooper’s Beach, in Southampton, N.Y., and to Hanalei Bay, on Kauai. The news brought international attention to the area’s most valuable resource and boosted tourism to record numbers, not to mention giving every 941’er even more to brag about.




Despite above-average sea surface temps, a weakened La Niña and one of the most active seasons on record, the 2011 storms spared the Gulf Coast of Florida.



Institute for the Ages

After years of study, the Institute for the Ages, led by SCOPE (Sarasota Openly Plans for Excellence), took off this year. Created to explore ways to improve the lives of our elderly and launch companies and products in the process, the Institute won support from Sarasota EDC and the Sarasota chamber, as well as Sarasota Memorial Hospital and The Patterson Foundation. When the Sarasota County Commission approved $1.2 million in economic incentives this summer, the Institute got the endorsement it needed to move forward. Next steps are to make the Institute an independent entity, find a CEO and look for research partners.



Metered parking

Paid parking in downtown Sarasota was one of the most divisive subjects of the year, and implementing it at the beginning of the summer, when downtown businesses struggle, proved disastrous. Business owners railed at the Sarasota City Commission and won a reprieve until October. The commission’s hasty retreat made them look spineless and indecisive to many supporters of paid parking, who saw the business owners as suffering from nothing more than the usual summer doldrums. It was a lose-lose all around—although the meters are now back and the controversy seems to have died down.





After all sorts of dire predictions that people would never figure out the Five Points roundabout, it’s become one of the best intersections downtown. Construction on roundabouts at Ringling Boulevard and Palm Avenue as well as Ringling and Pineapple Avenue started in November and will surely cause traffic congestion downtown during peak season. But it’s hard to deny that they work. Just look to your left and merge.




The Deal

In January, grand plans were announced for an “economic development center” that would be built in Lakewood Ranch, the initiative of ambitious go-getters Rex Jensen of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch and Dr. Lars Hafner of State College of Florida. Called The DEAL, or Design and Economic Acceleration Laboratory, the facility would be a clearinghouse for jobs and companies looking to relocate or expand. It soon became clear there was a serious lack of buy-in among the supposed participants. Many suspected this was just a way to expand the reach of SCF and the clout of Lakewood Ranch. Eleven months later, no deal.




The HuB

This collective of youngish entrepreneurs and creative types sometimes rankles the establishment with its ambitious (and often cocky) ambition of bringing in and nurturing cool high-tech entrepreneurs and social media geniuses, but the energy—and its Facebook-driven parties—are welcome in a region that suffers from youthful brain drain. This year The HuB expanded its space and the number of people working there to 30 and launched new social media and video initiatives.



Port Manatee

This shipping port in Palmetto already injects about $2.3 billion into the regional economy, but its brand-new Berth 12, which just opened this fall, can now handle container ships. The hope is that once the Panama Canal expansion is finished, container cargo will head to Port Manatee, which is the U.S.’s closest deepwater port to the canal. New port director Carlos Buqueras also has plans to take advantage of trade with Cuba, once the U.S. opens the doors, and to bring back a cruise line.



Gulf Coast Community Foundation and the Community Foundation

For years these two local foundations were famous for their turf wars over mission, money and prominence. But this year, Teri Hansen of Gulf Coast and Roxie Jerde, the new head of the Community Foundation, met together a number of times and announced the beginnings of collaboration. If only our political parties could be so grown-up.



Manatee County Commissioners Larry Bustle, John Chappie and Carol Whitmore

Business types says this gang of three, all former mayors of local municipalities, have moved issues forward by focusing on policy and leaving the details to professionals, and have also created a cultural change in government toward customer service. Even their offices are lined up in the county building, prompting some to call it “Mayors’ Row.”




¡Hola! Sarasota and Manatee grew by more than 100,000 people from 2000 to 2010, and Hispanics contributed to 25 percent of that growth. The 941 area code is home to 78,000 people of Hispanic origin, with more of these newcomers coming into the region with professional degrees and successful track records in business. Smart companies will figure out how to supply this emerging market.




The Quay

Irishman Patrick Kelly’s defunct billion-dollar project on 15 acres of Sarasota Bay prime property is being foreclosed on by state-owned Anglo Irish Bank. Until the economy improves, this bayfront property will remain a field of grass.



If you had hopes that the once-a -decade process of carving up congressional and legislative districts would prevent gerrymandering given the passage of Amendments 5 and 6 last year, think again. Most bets are on incumbent politicians still managing to protect their political turf.


Term limits

Sarasota County voters agreed to limit the terms of their county commissioners to two four-year terms in 1998, but in 2005, a circuit judge said that it was unconstitutional and unenforceable. The issue resurfaced this summer after an appeals court judge disagreed in a similar Broward County case and the issue was headed for the Supreme Court. Sarasota County Commissioners tried putting a charter amendment on the Jan. 31, 2012 ballot that would give commissioners three four-year terms, but a Sarasota circuit court judge ruled the ballot language misleading. On to the Supreme Court.


“WILL THE RESORT EVER OPEN AGAIN?”The Colony Beach and Tennis Resort

A federal judge recently overturned a bankruptcy court’s decision last year to give Longboat tennis resort The Colony to its condominium association instead of Murf Klauber. At press time, the parties were in mediation. It behooves them all to work out a deal for the deteriorating property.


Blake Medical Center’s trauma center

After a year of planning, building and training, Blake hospital expected approval of its level II trauma center this fall. An administrative court judge delayed the approval, stating that the rules the state uses to approve such applications are outdated—a decision that pleased nearby hospitals with competing trauma centers. The Florida Department of Health has a Dec. 1 deadline to make a decision.



Anna Maria

The island oasis has stepped it up during the recession. Hotel rentals are topped out, vacation rentals are full-on, restaurant revenues and home prices are up, development and construction are on the rise.

Pan American Masters Championships

We knew it was good for the region when U.S. Masters Swimming relocated its headquarters to Sarasota two years ago, but its announcement that the 2013 Pan American championships would be held at the Sarasota YMCA’s Selby Aquatic Center is a huge deal. Thousands of international swimmers and their families will descend on Sarasota for the 10-day event in spring 2013.


New home construction languishes, but remodeling is hot, as all those homeowners who can’t sell still pine for something new.

Rental real estate

When you can’t buy, you rent. Landlords are happier these days than in the flush days of flipping, and apartment buildings are about the only residential properties investors are considering.

Employers who are hiring

Anyone with a “Help Wanted” sign is a hot number.


CLUCK (Citizens Lobbying for Urban Chickens) convinced the Sarasota City Commission to allow backyard hens. Next CLUCK will peck away at the county.


It’s not a dirty word anymore. ’Nuff said.


Millions in taxpayer dollars have been promised to relocating or expanding local companies that create high-wage jobs. Let’s hope the dollars pay off.

Diversifying the economy

2011 was the Year of Diversification, with community-wide focus on growing previously overlooked industries.

Downtown Bradenton

From the groundbreaking on the Bradenton Riverwalk to the success of the Marauders to the energy behind Realize Bradenton, this little downtown was the 2011 “it” hotspot.

Electric charging stations

Stephen King gave cachet to Sarasota’s charging stations when he endorsed the two stations at the new Sarasota parking garage on Palm Avenue. The second floor of the parking garage of Whole Foods has one, too, and FPL should be installing more at Bayfront Park, St. Armands and another at Whole Foods.


WHAT’S out

Big houses

With stubbornly high unemployment rates and a lost decade in real estate values, humility is the name of the construction game.

Bank shareholders

If you invested in a bank six years ago, you’re probably wishing you’d kept your money in a CD.


The Manatee-based telecommunications hardware and software manufacturer filed for bankruptcy in June, following a third-quarter loss of $355,000 in 2010 and serious layoffs among its 133 employees.

Robb & Stucky

In February, the 96-year-old Fort Myers furniture chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, listing more than $57 million in debt. In May, this icon of Southwest Florida luxury home furnishings was sold to Asian furniture magnate Samuel Kuo for $470,000.

Landmark Bank

In late July, regulators closed Sarasota’s LandMark Bank and its four offices, which had $4 million in bad loans. That made it the 54th bank in Florida taken down by the recession.


Sarasota Ponzi schemers John and Marian Morgan both faced sentencing at press time for their $28 million financial scam. Two Orion Bank executives were sentenced to federal prison on bank fraud while Orion’s CEO, Jerry Williams, awaits trial on the same. Meanwhile, the receiver in Art Nadel’s $397 million Ponzi swindle was busy collecting the assets, profits and donations from the crime so they could be distributed to victims.

Commercial real estate

Vacancy rates for office and retail space remained high in 2011 and rents were down. Commercial real estate follows rooftops, so it will be a while before we see rates and occupancy move up.


The company announced in March that it was combining its Sarasota call center with a similar center in Fort Myers, resulting in the layoff of 129 employees. The employees were given the chance to apply for positions in Fort Myers or explore work-from-home options.


Good bye

Eric Basinger

Eric Basinger

The short-term executive director of the Manatee Chamber’s Economic Development Council, who came in with a focus on attracting overseas companies to Manatee, decided instead to return to his home state of Arkansas.


Kathy Baylis

Kathy Baylis

The longtime CEO of Sarasota’s Economic Development Corporation retired in June after 16 years of working to bring more business to the county.


Jim Ley

Jim Ley

After 14 years, Sarasota’s philosophizing county administrator resigned under duress with a nice severance package and a tarnished legacy.


Jim McManemon

Jim McManemon

After leading The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota for eight years, McManemon, whose congeniality and community involvement made him the face of the luxury hotel here, left for a position at a Ritz on Amelia Island.


Paul Smith

Paul Smith

Paul who? Most people could not have named Sarasota YMCA’s successor to Carl Weinrich, and now they won’t have to. After a little more than two years, the low-key Smith left as quietly as he came.


Bruce St. Denis

Bruce St. Denis

Pushed out by a contentious board of commissioners on Longboat Key, St. Denis quickly regrouped and applied for Jim Ley’s position. He was not one of the finalists.


Isaac Turner

Isaac Turner

Venice’s city manager resigned in February, acknowledging that he’d lost the faith of the city council over budget and police department issues during his two years.


Hello, There

Carlos Buqueras

Carlos Buqueras

A top official at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, where he was responsible for an increase in container cargo, Buqueras succeeds Port Manatee executive director David McDonald, who had been there for 36 years.


Steven High

Steven High

The Ringling Museum’s new executive director comes armed with a master’s in art history, an M.B.A. and a record of collaborating with business and tourism leaders.


Mark Huey

Mark Huey

Fresh from his stint as Tampa’s chief economic development officer, Huey succeeds Kathy Baylis. He’s been pretty quiet so far as he tours the county nonstop.


Brad Jencks

Brad Jencks

The Ritz-Carlton general manager from Rancho Mirage, Calif., succeeds Jim McManemon at the Sarasota Ritz resort.


Roxie Jerde

Roxie Jerde

With her huge smile and high energy, Jerde quickly began to bring her own brand of nonprofit leadership to the Community Foundation of Sarasota.

Filed under
Show Comments