Treasure Island's sleepy atmosphere is interrupted by frequent landscaping and building projects.
By KATHY SAUNDERS, Times Correspondent
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 1, 2001
TREASURE ISLAND -- Lush landscaping, low taxes and live entertainment are some of the things that set Treasure Island apart from other beachfront communities.
Although the city has a vibrant tourist business, Treasure Islanders say the way their neighborhoods are designed gives them a lot of privacy.
"We really have the best and the most homogeneous residential neighborhoods of the beach communities," said City Manager Chuck Coward. Each of five communities has its own civic association: Paradise Island, the Isle of Palms, Isle of Capri, Sunshine Beach and Sunset Beach.
"They all have their own flavor, and no other city can match that," Coward said.
Living in Treasure Island is like being on vacation 365 days a year, said retired teacher Judy McReynolds.
"If you live on the water, it's just very soothing and calming to your being," said the Isle of Capri resident.
When callers get artist Ruth Philipon's answering machine, she tells them she is "probably out enjoying another day in paradise."
The Isle of Palms resident has an art studio across the street from City Hall and can walk to all of the downtown businesses. She likes knowing the names of the local merchants and she always yells "yoo-hoo" at the locksmith when she walks by his shop.
Living in a small town and still being able to drive to a large city within a few minutes is the best of both worlds, she said.
Sonja Wheeler moved to Treasure Island in 1968.
"To me, Treasure Island is blue sky, greenery all year round, no snow, no cold and a happy, safe place to live," she said. The Paradise Island resident drives to Seminole to work after she attends exercise classes at the Treasure Island City Hall.
"When I come home at night, driving across the bridge brings me into a total different world," she said. "As soon as I cross the bridge, peace and calm surround me."
Treasure Island residents care a lot about beauty.
This summer, the city is undergoing $600,000 worth of landscaping projects throughout the downtown area.
A total of 14 building projects are under way in the city, including construction of new walkways through downtown and a clock tower at the center of the shopping district. The city's civic associations chipped in to buy a carillon for the new clock, expected to be completed in October.
Several new businesses, including a butcher shop and a day spa, have opened recently. And the Bilmar Hotel at the center of the beach is planning to open a Sloppy Joes restaurant.
The city has a strong volunteer corps, ranging from the Hotel Motel Association to the Treasure Island Business Association. Workers turn out in force for community-sponsored events such as the annual symphony performances on the beach.
The Islettes, one of the city's oldest civic groups, raises thousands of dollars each year for fire and police department equipment, the recreation department and college scholarships for residents. The group also contributed toward the clock tower bells.
"I have never worked in a city that has had as many active civic groups," Coward said. "Every one of them is making a positive contribution to this city."
Not much happens at City Hall without the input from civic groups. And that's just fine with residents.
"We're all in this together," said Isle of Palms resident John Hehn, a member of his civic association board and a co-host of his annual block party.
It's the city manager's job to balance the needs of the residents with those of the business community and the government.
Thankfully, Coward said, the various needs rarely collide.
In his administration, city commissioners have kept property taxes lower than most Pinellas cities.
At the same time, they have managed to improve city facilities such as City Hall and the Community Center, and build a new beach pavilion. The city is planning to replace its Causeway Bridge, build a trail the length of its beach and develop a sunset-viewing plaza and park at the entrance to Sunset Beach.
Although it has a sleepy nature, Coward said, Treasure Island also has a wilder side.
"When I first came here and when we were working on our vision statement, I was looking for a niche that we filled," he said. "It occurred to me that we have a lot of live entertainment."
From big band music to jazz bands and solo guitar players, the city hosts live music every week. He counted 10 places on the city's 3-mile stretch of beach where live music is performed.
"In a very quiet way, we are an alive community," Coward said.