Saturday, February 24, 2018
Public safety

Party crowd, glass and trash at Postcard Inn bring complaints

ST. PETE BEACH — The view from Postcard Inn on the Beach was far from picturesque the morning after Memorial Day.

Broken foam coolers, crumpled Heineken cans and empty beer boxes overflowed out of two trash cans into knee-deep piles on the sand. Trails of glass bottles led to nearby wooden lounge chairs, surrounded by more litter.

Alcohol and glass aren't allowed on St. Pete Beach, but city ordinances and Pinellas County sheriff's deputies contracted to enforce the law don't seem to be taming the party in front of the 196-room inn.

Officials acknowledge there is uncertainty over the dividing line between the beach and private property. That seems to have left the door open for revelers when it comes to enforcement.

"This is every weekend. It's not even just Memorial Day weekend. It's atrocious," said Jason Bleistein, 40, who lives across the street from the hotel. When he takes his young children to the water, they know to look out for broken glass.

"There are whiskey bottles, the giant liter bottles and used condoms in the dunes," he added. "The amount of plastic straws is enough to turn your stomach."

Plastic straws are known to choke sea turtles and birds. Miami Beach banned hotels from distributing them two years ago.

The straws and trash floating in the Gulf of Mexico also bothered Lori Corle, who traveled from Elizabethtown, Ky., to stay at the Beachcomber Beach Resort & Hotel next to the Postcard Inn.

"We were very disappointed (Memorial Day) because my friend and I were coming here wanting this peace and quiet and not to be in the middle of spring break," Corle said, adding that she smelled marijuana on the beach numerous times. "As far as returning, it's not been my favorite place and it's because of all the craziness."

She said she wondered why there weren't more law enforcement officers patrolling the beach, considering it was a national holiday.

Representatives of the Postcard Inn did not return several calls seeking comment.

"Someone was patrolling the beach all weekend long," said Cristen Rensel, spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

As for the hundreds of empty bottles and cans on the beach Tuesday morning, Rensel said one could not be certain the alcohol was consumed on the beach. "Just because there was trash at the edge of the Postcard Inn doesn't mean they weren't drinking at the pool or in their rooms," she said.

The Sheriff's Office has been made aware of the problem and is working with the inn and the city on the issue, Rensel said. She said the deputy who patrols the area, David Mancusi, could not comment while a solution was being discussed.

In a recent email, Mancusi replied to Bleistein's concerns, saying that part of the problem is that deputies aren't sure what areas of the beach they have jurisdiction over.

The city is planning to clarify its ordinance by June 24 and add signs showing the line between public and private property, according to St. Pete Beach Mayor Maria Lowe. This will allow deputies to better enforce laws, and private businesses can take more responsibility for cleaning up litter, she said.

Julie Fuller, 52, has lived near the property since 2008. "The officers should be ticketing people for glass containers and just plain littering," she said, adding that on Monday mornings she often fills two trash bags' worth of debris in front of the Postcard Inn and the Beachcomber.

The Postcard Inn, owned by Starwood Capital Group, opened in 2009 after a major renovation of an old Travelodge.

Sheriff's Office records show 1,072 calls for service to the inn over the past 12 months, compared with 211 at the neighboring 143-unit Alden Suites Beach Resort. Officials caution that calls for service do not always mean an incident took place at the exact address.

The general manager at the nearby TradeWinds resort, Keith Overton, said "we have a different model; we don't use our beach as a party scene." He added: "I don't fault them for their business model. It's a capitalist-driven market. … I fear that they don't put the resources behind it for cleanup and management of all of that, and ultimately the beach ends up being dirty and there is no real control over what's going on with the environment."

He said hiring an off-duty uniformed officer to patrol the beach in front of TradeWinds has cut down on problems.

Tony Satterfield, vice president of operations at Alden Suites, said he hasn't noticed the party scene at the Postcard Inn or heard complaints from his guests.

The day after Memorial Day, the only trash seen on the beach in front of the Alden, Beachcomber and the TradeWinds was one paper plate and a plastic water bottle.

Keeping the beach clean is getting harder, said Steven Hallock, St. Pete Beach public services director. He attributes the increase in litter to a spike in tourism.

Dave Winkler, owner of Captain Dave's Watersports, said the party crowd at the Postcard Inn hasn't hurt his business at all. He attracts clients of all ages, and families.

"There might be people who booked rooms at the (Postcard Inn) that are not pleased with the amount of local traffic there on the weekends," he said. But "if you were 21 or 22 and you booked a room, you'd think it's the best place in the world."

Times photographer Lara Cerri contributed to this report. Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at [email protected]

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