MADEIRA BEACH — The Treasure Island & Madeira Beach Chamber of Commerce has existed for a year, but Madeira Beach's recent endorsement of the fledgling organization has taken some by surprise and added to confusion over the group's role.
When the Treasure Island Chamber added Madeira Beach in July of last year, the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber got a letter from Madeira Beach stating that the beaches chamber was still that city's chamber of commerce. The bigger organization represents businesses from 11 Tampa Bay beach cities.
But this month, Madeira Beach included a membership application for the new Treasure Island & Madeira Beach Chamber in a mailing to businesses that included other information about tax license renewals. The application included separate statements from Madeira Beach Mayor Travis Palladeno and City Manager Shane Crawford encouraging businesses to join.
"This is confusing for me, and I'm not sure why they did this," said Clyde Smith, a board member of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber and general manger of the Bilmar Beach Resort.
Crawford said the city is not playing favorites.
"We were in no way, shape or form ever endorsing one (chamber) over the other," Crawford said. "The Treasure Island & Madeira Beach Chamber asked the city to include a membership form in its mailing to businesses." Crawford said he agreed because it didn't increase the cost of the mailing.
"From a Monday morning quarterback view, we should have put a slip of paper in there that lists all our chambers in this area," he said.
He said that both chambers are beneficial and the city endorses both.
"We didn't ask for two chambers," Crawford added. "This newer chamber was a shock to the city. We didn't even know that was happening. A chamber was created with the city's name in the letterhead."
Madeira Beach joined the Treasure Island chamber one year ago. Local businessman Bill Edwards, who created the Treasure Island Chamber about 12 years ago, returned as chairman to join the two adjacent towns' business interests under one umbrella.
"The fact that the two cities have come together is huge," said Edwards, a former Treasure Island resident and owner of the Club at Treasure Island.
It makes sense for the business owners and employees to get to know each other better at events so they can refer customers and clients, he added.
Several months after hosting a welcome dinner for Madeira Beach businesses, Edwards left the chamber's board and is no longer involved other than as a landlord of its office building, he said.
"I live in St. Petersburg now. It was too hard for me to get to meetings," he explained.
Smith said he has no problem with multiple chambers working to help businesses. The Bilmar belongs to five chambers, including Orlando's. But he says Madeira Beach is creating confusion by encouraging local businesses to join one chamber over another.
With membership fees ranging from $125 to $1,000 at the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber and $100 to $600 at the Treasure Island & Madeira Beach Chamber, some businesses may opt to join just one.
The smaller chamber hosted four to six events last year, Smith said. But the bigger chamber performs functions that are essential to the businesses, he added.
"I think it's really critical, with any organization you are going to be spending your money with, that you look into what value it brings you," Smith said. "The reason I'm committed to the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber is it's a great value. We represent members when we go to Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. We are an entity respected by all levels of government. We do cooperative advertising. If something opens, we're there."
Crawford echoed Smith and praised Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber executive director Robin Sollie.
"She runs one heck of a chamber. She is the go-to person when you need to have a ribbon cutting or handle a candidate forum," he said. "The smaller chamber is the one with our name in it. It's in its infancy, and they are working to get it off the ground."
Alan Martinez, chairman of the Treasure Island & Madeira Beach Chamber, laid out the vision of the group.
"We're still going to be events-focused," he said, "but we are more focused for the next three years, and probably beyond, on driving value to our membership by specifically dealing with issues that are occurring within both cities that have the potential to impact local businesses."
Contact Katherine Snow Smith at kssmith@tampabay. Follow @snowsmith.