By Rachel Brown Hackney
A merger years in the making became reality in early November, when members of the Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA) voted unanimously to merge the organization into the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce.
The goal is “to enhance the overall representation and relations between the north and south ends of the key, longtime SKVA board member and Chamber member Russell Matthes explained during the SKVA’s Nov. 1 meeting. “This will allow the Siesta Key Chamber to become a stronger voice in the community,” he added, “and continue building business via marketing and promotions.”
Matthes pointed out that a steering committee comprising members of both the SKVA and Siesta Chamber boards “felt like this is the time to do this for various reasons.”
“What we’re doing is taking the priorities of the Village Association and extending them, making them island-wide, Siesta Chamber Chair and SKVA Vice President Mark Smith stated in an interview after the meeting. The SKVA, which is more than 40 years old, officially will be absorbed into the Chamber as of Dec. 31, Matthes announced.
In citing the factors that led to the timing of the merger, Matthes explained during the Nov. 1 session that the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp. has been doing well in handling the upkeep of the North Village, and the finances of both the SKVA and the Chamber “are relatively strong.”
Moreover, he continued, “We feel that the overlapping of committee members, board members and actually members of the Village Association and the Chamber can get confusing to new members and, sometimes current members.” Additionally, he noted, many of the same people serve on committees for both organizations, and often meetings of both groups end up focused on the same topics.
Matthes pointed out that the SKVA and the Chamber have been undertaking a number of events together and on their own each year. The annual calendar begins with the Craft Show in February, followed by the Valentine’s Stroll, Siesta Fiesta in the spring, the Easter Egg Hunt and Games, the July Fourth fireworks show, Safe Treats on Halloween, Sandfest, the Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival each November and Light Up the Village — the holiday season kickoff.
“It’s difficult for an all-volunteer ‘army’ to pull [all these] off year after year,” Smith said. “We just think we can work as a whole,” Matthes added, to make the events even better and more successful.
Furthermore, the merger of the SKVA and the Chamber will lead to the expansion of events — such as Safe Treats on Halloween — to the south end of the island, Smith told the approximately 15 people present. Discussions already are underway about the potential for holding the 15th annual Easter Egg Hunt at Turtle Beach in 2017, Smith noted.
The steering committee members who worked on the merger reviewed the bylaws of both the SKVA and the Chamber, Mattes explained, “to make sure we were guided correctly.” They also met with the attorney for the Chamber, Eric Flemming, who drafted an agreement calling for the Chamber to essentially acquire the SKVA, Matthes said; and they talked with the SKVA’s accountant for the SKVA.
The SKVA has slightly more than $70,000 in its treasury, Matthes pointed out.
Before the Maintenance Corp. was organized, Smith noted, 80% to 85% of the SKVA members’ dues went to Village upkeep, including garbage pickup, pressure washing of the sidewalks, trimming the palms and related efforts.
In conjunction with the Sarasota County project to improve the Village in 2008-09, the Maintenance Corp. was organized to represent all the property owners who are assessed by the county on an annual basis to pay for the upkeep. County staff oversees the budget and coordinates any county initiatives with the Maintenance Corp. Michael Shay, past president of the Siesta Key Association, has served as the SKVA liaison to the Maintenance Corp.; he will continue in that role on behalf of the Siesta Chamber, SKVA President Wendall Jacobsen and Matthes said.
Lisa Cece, the special district coordinator in the county’s Transportation and Real Estate departments who supervises Village upkeep for the county, stated that Shay serves as the “eyes and ears” on the island, proving of great assistance to her and other county staff in regard to the upkeep.
The SKVA members’ confidence in Shay and Cece “leaves us with a good feeling that we can make a move like this.” Matthes also praised Ann Frescura, executive director of the Chamber, and the other Chamber employees. “I firmly believe we have the strongest Chamber staff … right now. They’re doing a great job.” Frescura began her work with the Chamber at the beginning of this year.
The SKVA plans to turn over about $40,000 to the Chamber’s general fund as the merger takes place, Matthes said. The remainder will go toward specific projects, such as further improvements to the traffic island just south of the Village, where plantings, signs and a palm were destroyed in a vehicular accident in August, Smith added. One idea is to undertake another pressure washing of the sidewalks to supplement the cleaning that is part of the maintenance contract with Buccaneer Landscape Management of Pinellas Park.
“We can certainly find places to put the remaining $30,000 pretty quickly,” Matthes added.
SKVA board member Glen Cappetta, owner of Sun Ride Pedicab, made the motion to dissolve the SKVA and allocate a minimum of $40,000 from its treasury to the Siesta Chamber. The motion noted that all SKVA members who are not Chamber members will be grandfathered in through March 31, 2017.Peter van Roekens, the Terrace East condominium association representative to the SKVA, seconded the motion.
The last official — brief, Matthes emphasized — SKVA meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 7, at the Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar in Siesta Village. That is where the organization has been holding its monthly sessions. The gathering will be primarily social, akin to a “happy hour,” added Matthes, one of the co-owners of the business.
After Jan. 1, Smith told SNL, a schedule of quarterly general meetings will be established so any member of the Chamber who is interested in attending will have an opportunity to ask questions. As things have stood, he pointed out, the Chamber has had “no vehicle for a business member to address the board.”
Matthes explained that an Island Business Committee of the Chamber will be set up, with a co-chair representing each end of the island. Alana Tomasso, immediate past chair of the Chamber, will be the person from the south end. She is the general manager of Midnight Cove Realty. Wendall Jacobsen, who is the general manager of Beach Bazaar, will represent the north end. That group will conduct the general sessions.
Matthes also recognized his fellow members of the steering committee, which worked on the merger: Aledia Tush, co-owner of CB’s Saltwater Outfitters; Kathy Elliott of Signarama; Nikki Logan Curran of Mattison’s Forty-One; Kay Kouvatsos, co-owner of The Village Café; Tomasso; and Jacobsen.