Like three sisters, "the Redingtons" have a lot in common but maintain separate personalities in an insular family.
By SHEILA MULLANE ESTRADA, Times Correspondent
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 1, 2001
Mainlanders often describe "The Redingtons" as a single community of upscale beach homes and condominiums suitable mostly for retirees -- pleasant but irrelevant to their hectic lives.
Not so, say residents of the three similar but distinct towns -- Redington Beach, North Redington Beach and Redington Shores.
Yes, each community has expensive homes and condominiums on the Gulf of Mexico.
Yes, many retirees relax amid the wash of salt breezes and song birds.
And yes, the island dwellers of the Redingtons often take pride in their insularity from the faster-paced communities just a bridge away.
But the Redingtons are increasingly home to young families, to working professionals, to people from all walks of economic life who have one strong common desire -- belonging to a "friendly community" blessed to live in a "slice of paradise."
It is common to see residents in all three towns walking the beach in the morning with coffee cups in hand, riding bicycles or roller-skating along neighborhood streets.
Each town has its own government and cadre of volunteers and community activists. Friendships cross town borders, but formal interaction ended several years ago with the closing of joint fire and police departments.
Residents also are quick to emphasize their differences, which become apparent traveling north on Gulf Boulevard.
Single-family homes on both sides of Gulf Boulevard attest to the determinedly residential character of Redington Beach.
The sand-colored buildings of the gulf-front Tides Beach Club mark the most recent upscale renewal of North Redington Beach. Large, newly elevated homes jut into the Inland Waterway.
Redington Shores is a mix of its southern neighbors, with a strong presence of tourism and commerce. There are large hotels and condominiums, restaurants and bars, large homes and small duplexes. And there is the Redington Pier, where residents and tourists come day and night to walk, sit, talk, and fish.
All the beaches have public access, but Redington Beach prohibits parking on Gulf Boulevard and offers no public parking, making it difficult for non-residents to visit. North Redington Beach has on-street parking, but its beach is still used mostly by residents. Redington Shores, with on-street and lot parking and a county beach park, is the most accessible to visitors.
For towns of little more than a mile in length, parks increasingly are an important part of community life. Friendship Park in Redington Beach is the site of townwide picnics. North Redington Beach neighbors living near Addie Graham Park raised money to install playground equipment for their children. Redington Shores residents, unhappy with private development plans for an acre of vacant land on the Inland Waterway, helped secure a state grant several years ago so the town could buy the land and create Del Bello Park.
"Redington Beach is a wonderful piece of paradise on the beach," said Zoe Roseman, a longtime resident who helped found the Redington Beach Property Owners Association. The group has raised money for college scholarships, sponsored pot-luck dinners and tea dances.
Kathyrn Bonter moved from New York City nearly four years ago to start a new business. While studying for her state licensing exam, she was enveloped in the network of residents. Today, she is president of the property owners association.
Jack Henry has lived in Redington Beach since 1961 and has no plans to move despite storm-driven floods that have invaded his house five times. He lives on the Inland Waterway but makes a point every night to meet people at "The Wall" -- a seawall at the town's private beach access park where residents frequently gather and talk.
Jane Lee works as a teacher in Safety Harbor and lived in Countryside for more than 20 years. In November, she and her husband, Bill, moved to North Redington Beach.
In the months since the move to the Tides Villages, Jane and her husband frequently walk the beach to count turtle nests and collect shells or walk the streets to discover new friends and neighbors.
After attending town commission meetings, the Lees found themselves volunteering to help organize the town's July 4 picnic.
Said Peter Arps, owner of the Park Circle Bed & Breakfast: "North Redington Beach has a more upscale feel to it. The lot sizes and houses are larger, the streets and canals are wider. The impact of the new Tides development has been substantial."
In the early 1970s, Redington Shores was "more like a fishing village" with a lot of small homes and cottages converted from barracks trucked in from Tampa, according to longtime resident Jim Goodman. He has seen the town grow and yet retain much of the flavor of that original fishing village.
The town's reputation for diversity and friendliness is evident at The Friendly Tavern, a favored watering hole for residents of all three towns. Connie McGowan, who visited Redington Shores for 30 years and became a full-time resident two years ago, is a patron.
"Maybe a lot of people won't admit it, but I absolutely go there. I like to sit outside in the afternoon and have a beer after a long walk. My son-in-law can't wait to go there on karaoke night. He thinks he's quite the singer."
When Barbara Curtin retired to Redington Shores two years ago, she found the best way to meet people was to volunteer at Town Hall, where she manned the copier, watered plants and answered phones.
Curtin also is a member of the Surfside Club, which years ago acquired a private beach access for residents on the finger between 180th and 182nd avenues. The club is well known in town for its beach parties.