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New group is hoping to cultivate business

(ran Beach edition)

Mayor Mary Maloof and a group of local civic leaders have formed a partnership to begin looking for ways to help the city's businesses thrive.

Along with residents Ken Brown, a yacht broker and former owner of two beachfront bars, Ray Green, who owns a Tampa business consulting firm, and Benjamin Hetrick, who operates Benjamin's Bokay floral shop in downtown, Maloof has started the legal process of forming a nonprofit corporation. Each has committed $1,000 to cover the initial costs. The city has no stake in the effort; the mayor is investing her own money.

One of the first projects of the new partnership will be to find out what kinds of businesses the local community will support in downtown.

Maloof said members plan to mail a survey to every resident, probably this fall.

Some of the questions may be: What type of business would you frequent or prefer? What kind of events would you attend downtown? How often do you dine out? What type of menu do you prefer?

Once established, Maloof said the group will be open to anyone interested in working to stimulate economic development in the city.

Other residents and business owners already have signed on to the concept, she said. Maloof has pitched her ideas to Bill Edwards, who owns Mr. B's restaurant and a miniature golf course on Gulf Boulevard.

"(Edwards) has pledged to make his property the most wonderful miniature golf course on the west coast of Florida," she said.

The new partners already are working on a few ideas. Maloof said some members are considering bringing a green market to the downtown area, perhaps on a quarterly basis. It would be a place where residents and visitors could select fresh fruit, vegetables or plants and flowers.

"That could change the whole way that Treasure Island residents think about their downtown," said Maloof.

Merchants looking to open new shops could look to the partnership for help. Maloof said members can serve as a resource for prospective business owners, offering information about what businesses have been successful in the past or which ones have failed.

Members with expertise in certain areas also can share knowledge as mentors.

The core of Maloof's partnership is made up of residents on both sides of the development debate that engulfed local politics for the past year. Brown supported tall buildings along the beachfront while Green sued the city over plans to allow 10-story hotels. Eventually the city was forced by the courts to abandon those plans.

"Regardless of what your personal vision for the height of a building in Treasure Island is, it doesn't mean you're not interested in the kind of business we've got going on," she said. "Shops and businesses are where you see your neighbors. They keep a city alive."

Harry Black, president of the Treasure Island Hotel/Motel Hospitality Association, said he is excited about bringing businesses together to help each other.

"We generate a lot of money here and it's just a great place to work and bring up your family and have a business," said Black, who manages the Island Inn.

Black says he would love to lure more take-out restaurants where visitors could buy fried chicken, fried shrimp or vegetables.

Maloof said there's talk of a Mediterranean specialty shop in downtown.

But for starters, a new candy store is coming to town.

The 53-year-old Candy Kitchen on Madeira Beach is planning to open its first franchise this month at 10641 Gulf Blvd. across from the Bilmar Beach Resort.

The new store will feature 40 flavors of homemade ice cream along with candy from generations past and present.