If you stood at the waterline in the center of Englewood Beach yesterday and looked in either direction, you would have seen people as far as the eye could see.
There were families, there were friends, there were visitors from afar and local Floridians. From all over America and even from around the around the world they came. This weekend, the beach was the place to be for the Englewood Beach WaterFest’s signature event: The Offshore Power Boat Association World Championship Races.
Now in its fourth year, WaterFest has continued to grow. In 2017, nearly 30,000 people descended on Englewood to enjoy all things water. No one would be surprised to see that record broken in 2018.
“Anyone that lives here or has a business here has needed this weekend to celebrate why we live here,” said WaterFest board member Elaine Miller. “I don’t know that there’s ever been an event that has been such a big shot in the arm for the Englewood community like this has been this year.”
While red tide has been a nationally reported story, such thoughts were far away from those who gathered to celebrate at the waters edge. Beach goers were greeted with clear skies, clear air and temperatures in the mid 70’s. Though the board was forced to consider cancelling the event last summer due to the red tide and the high cost of the event, the decision to move forward proved a wise one.
The estimated economic impact to Englewood last year was about $6 million to Charlotte and Sarasota counties. WaterFest was estimated to have generated an additional 7,500 room nights for hotels in Charlotte and Sarasota Counties.
While an important goal of WaterFest is to boost the local economy, the event also donates proceeds to organizations that “foster the conservation and protection of our local waterways and marine life and encourages the responsible and recreational use of our beaches and water resources.”
While the economic impact was visible everywhere you turned, so too was the fun. Along Beach Road, local businesses rolled out the welcome mat. At the Sand Bar and Tiki Grill there was live music and a festive atmosphere. Diners could watch the power boats as they were lowered into the water. The band, “Trinity on 80” played hits of the past during the day while “No Filter” came out at night to cover the hits of today.
Lock and Key Restaurant and Pub was busy. And so too was The Waverly Restaurant and Bar. Curbside outside The Waverly was a small bar stand. There, two bar maids satisfied the thirst of passers-by. For those who went in, there was outdoor seating on two levels. A full menu was available even for those who chose to seek the air conditioning inside.
“This is a fun way to spend a work day because I can, in some way, take part in what is going on,” said Lauren Bracken, who served a busy stream of customers at The Waverly’s curbside bar. “This is the busiest the town’s been in quite some time. So, everybody is really friendly and having a great time watching the races or having a drink or lunch. It’s a perfect day and tomorrow is going to be the same.”
While there were people everywhere – and all with big appetites and a thirst to quench – the one thing WinterFest seemed to be nearly devoid of was long lines. Tickets for food and drink were short and moved quickly.
Behind the smooth operation were 11 volunteer directors who have been preparing since shortly after WaterFest 2017. There were also 400 volunteers who were visible in abundance and ready to answer any questions.
“All praise to the volunteers. Without them we’d be sunk,” said director Ray LaBadie.
And the efforts of the directors and volunteers didn’t go unnoticed.
“I’ve been to these events a number of times on Lake Erie and in Key West, and the Manasota Key ones are by far the most fun because they are the most condensed and well run,” said Ohio native and Englewood resident, Andy Suhar. “You can really see everything in a short, condensed area. I’ve liked the other power boat races I’ve been to, but this one is just easier to enjoy.”
As an owner of a local business, Joe Maxx Coffee Company, Suhar is also a proud sponsor of WaterFest.
“A lot of the businesses along West Dearborn Street are proud sponsors of this event and I’m sure we’ll continue to be,” he added. “We’re proud of our businesses and we’re proud of Englewood and this is a great way to express our appreciation and love for Englewood.”