TREASURE ISLAND — Where do you draw the line in deciding how many public events on the beach is enough?
It is a question city commissioners grappled with as three hotel owners clashed with Rotary Club members last week over the right to hold the club's annual "Greatest Show on Surf" on the city's beachfront.
Tyler Cathey, a lawyer with Englander Fischer representing the Thunderbird Beach Resort, the Windjammer Resort and Page Terrace Beachfront Motel, tried to persuade commissioners to postpone a decision on allowing the event next year.
"The idea is good but it is more complicated. We want time to discuss it," he said. Cathey said the hotels have lost money every year during the four-day festival when the beach is filled with fair rides and cars.
"People didn't pay to have the beach renourished to turn it into a parking lot," Cathey said.
Although two commissioners had reservations about allowing the event, the commission approved a resolution in a 4-1 vote to allow the Gulf Beaches Rotary Club to hold its carnival March 13-16.
"Many years ago businesses said the city didn't do enough to bring more events here," Commissioner Phil Collins said. "It seems it's damned if you do and damned if you don't. People say don't do it in my back yard. Well, this (the beach) is everyone's back yard."
Collins said past events have not caused any damage from vehicles parked or operating on the beach.
Mayor Bob Minning and Commissioner Carol Coward, who identified themselves as Rotarians, supported the event.
The city allows 11 events a year to be held on the beachfront, which is about 25 days out of the year, Minning pointed out. "I don't think that is out of bounds or out of whack."
Coward said she was concerned about the "long-term ramifications" of stopping beach parking and events.
"Do we want a beach that is pristine but we don't want anybody doing anything to it?" she asked.
But Commissioner Alan Bildz said he opposed the carnival because it is harming local business owners.
"We are putting the hotels effectively out of business," he said and voted against the measure.
Commissioner Tim Ramsberger said he is in favor of special events but not parking on the beach.
"But we have no alternative," Ramsberger said, referring to the lack of parking in the city.
A number of Rotary members and others spoke in favor of the event they said drew 12,000 attendees this year. They said money made at the carnival is given back to the community in the form of college scholarships and in other ways. They argued the beach should be for everyone's enjoyment.
One business operator, Phyllis McMillan, general manager of the Treasure Bay Hotel and Marina, said the city should continue allowing events on the beach because it boosts business.
"These events are paramount to our success," she said.