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TDC OKs $25K to support ‘old Florida’ conference

By Kathy Prucnell, Islander Reporter

Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau executive manager Debbie Meihls, left, Manatee County Tourist Development Council member Ed Chiles, convention executive director Elliott Falcione, and former BACVB executive director Larry White gather at Holmes Beach City Hall following the April 16 TDC meeting. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

The message came through to the Manatee County Tourism Development Council from Herb Hiller: Places that pay attention to ‘place’ authenticity will prosper.

Apparently marketing of Anna Maria Island as the true “old Florida-style” destination is working.

Hiller, who has organized bicycle tours and a five-county trail system to benefit rural economies in north Florida, will team with Caroline McKeon of Florida Journeys Communications to present a two-day Sustainable Authentic Florida conference in October. It will include speakers ranging from urban planners, civic innovators, social and folk historians to marketing professionals.

McKeon said the idea came during a trip to the Island by Hiller a year ago as he worked on a book about areas having a “special sense of place.”

The conference will be held at the Island Players playhouse, 10009 Gulf Drive, Anna Maria.

The two-day conference is expected to draw 125 attendees, the maximum seating at the community theater, McKeon added.

The council voted unanimously to recommend the county commission allocate $25,000 to the Oct. 17-19 conference, but only after a lengthy discussion about conflicts of interest and Florida’s Sunshine Laws.

With a budget of $65,000, the conference will feature a tour of Pine Avenue, a boat ride in Sarasota Bay, meals on the Island, and six expert presenters on how to attract newcomers to communities by preserving historic places and employing green initiatives.

The conference also will include team leaders from four Florida places who will “show and tell” their livable, walkable towns, said Hiller.

The communities represented will be Franklin in Wakulla County, DeLand in Volusia County, Miami Beach and coastal Manatee.

The leaders from coastal Manatee are restaurateur Ed Chiles, developers and vacation accommodation owners Mike and Lizzie Vann Thrasher of Anna Maria, hotelier David Teitelbaum of Anna Maria Island Resorts, Charlie Hunsicker, director of the Manatee County Natural Resources Department and Karen Bell of A.P. Bell and Star Fish companies in Cortez.

Hiller mentioned how coastal Manatee exemplifies sustainable authenticity with its low-rise structures and measures that have kept the beaches open.

TDC members Chiles and Teitelbaum advised the council they’d been involved in conference planning discussions and looked to the county attorney for advice as to possible conflicts to vote on the conference.

“I want to first say I’ve had involvement since its nexus,” Chiles, owner of Sandbar, MarVista and Beachhouse restaurants, told the council.

“It’s critical we have the right kind (of people) who want to respect the character and integrity of the Island. I don’t want to see people who are looking for short-term economic gain,” Chiles said, adding this conference would help the Island attract the right people.

Conference planning discussions also included Teitelbaum, president of Anna Maria Island Resorts, including the Old Bridge Village and Tortuga Inn, Tradewinds and SeaSide Inn motels in Bradenton Beach.

Teitelbaum agreed with Chiles’ assessment of Island tourism.

“A few reckless developers are causing problems” for the Island, he said. He supported the conference for the eco-tourism, diversity of ideas and national recognition it would bring to the Island, but said he would abstain from voting if necessary.

Chiles said his restaurants will be donating food, and McKeon said Tortuga Inn has offered to give conference-goers discount hotel rates.

As to the Sunshine Laws prohibiting members of government bodies from certain discussions outside of properly noticed meetings, county attorney Jim Minix said any Sunshine Law violation due to Teitelbaum’s and Chiles’ ex-parte discussions was corrected by the public airing at the meeting. Minix also recommended they not abstain from the vote based on their statements.

“They assured me there was no private gain or loss,” Minix said, and if their “interest is the same as any other citizen” or “speculative,” they are “required to vote.”

The TDC is a nine-member board that makes recommendations to the county regarding the BACVB budget and use of the 5 percent tourist development tax revenue, also known as the bed tax, collected on short-term rentals — properties rented for six months or less.

The latest monthly figures from the BACVB indicate a total of $1,046,580 in bed tax dollars were collected in February, nearly $190,000 more than February 2011. In the 2011-12 fiscal year, $6,971, 236 in resort tax was collected, $590,018 more than in 2010-11.

And with six months reported so far in the 2011-12 fiscal year, October through January, the tax has brought in $569,629 more than collected during the same period last year.

12 Responses to TDC OKs $25K to support ‘old Florida’ conference

  1. Kathy Caserta says:

    I met a nice Builder from Tennessee that purchased on the Island and renovated a ground level structure. His comment to me about all the tear downs and new construction was that he has seen this happen in other areas and it destroys the character of the Island Community. If he had any say in how to manage it he would change permitting to reflect the “renovation only” of our historic properties. No more tearing down everything in sight. Renovation permits to existing structures only. We also spoke about another area that went through the same scenario with McMansions and ended up with foreclosures and short sales due to overextending loans to Buyers that could not afford the properties without income produced to cover the debt. Built it and they will come, sell it with false expectations of rental income, they will default on their loans and create havoc for the rest of the market and it was the Outer Banks of Carolina, very similar to Anna Maria Island. If you want a path to follow for future development keep some history and respect the value of the Historic properties.

    • I agree with Kathy.
      We bought a 20 year old home last year with the intention of eventually retiring in Anna Maria. In the meantime, we need to rent it out. Our approach always has been to maintain and or improve the house and landscape by keeping the same footprint and adding value to it. We purchased in Anna Maria because the homes on the larger lots were different from those in Holmes Beach where they build 2 houses per lot. We also love the eco-friendly approach in Anna Maria which we also hope to include in our house in the future. We hope that the future of Anna Maria remains the same by the time we retire. I think modifying the present building codes will help ensure that the historic appeal of Anna Maria stays alive for future generations to enjoy.

      • John Gage says:

        Nancy, I am intrigued as to what you mean by Eco- friendly in AM?

        I wouldn’t be too quick to believe that Anna Maria is doing anything about modifying the building code to preserve the historic properties. I would suggest you take a look at what has happened in our City in the last few years and by that I mean take a long look at the minutes of Commission and P and Z meetings. Then go and look at the Comprehensive Plan and what the intention was for the City. Next take a look at the changes that have been made to the Comprehensive Plan and the LDR’s to allow the developers to tear down the cracker cottages and replace them with large McMansions. The faithful souls who served our City so well for decades were run out of town, threatened and intimidated. They were replaced by a Mayor who worked for the developers, a CIty Planner and Building Inspector who worked for that Mayor and a bunch of ‘yes men’ as Commissioners also working for the developers. A generation of preservation was undone in less than five years and continues to be undone. So if you have deep pockets and the stomach for it and you really believe this City can be preserved then serve on either P and Z or the Commission.

        And by the way Holmes Beach does not allow two properties on one lot unless it is zoned as a duplex. Anna Maria on the other hand now allows both residential and commercial on one 5000 square foot lot – how’s that for overdevelopment? And I dare say within another year, and most likely another developer friendly major in office, hotels will be back on the table. And who is going to stop them this time?

      • diana says:

        i totally agree and i myself plan on ending up on ami. i’m in tx but want so much to be there. just waiting on kids to graduate!!!

    • Melanie Scheuerle says:

      I just cringe every time I see a mif-century beach bungalow torn down and a “dime a dozen” McMansion go up in its place. Remember, once its gone, you can’t rebuild that piece of history.

    • diana says:

      The biggest attraction to me when I first came to ami was the old fla charm. The more that gets torn down the more that disappears. I hate that. It’s such a beautiful island and I’d hate to see it all commercialized and looking like every other tourist attraction!!!!

  2. Ah says:

    This surely is a case of the fox being in charge of the chicken coop. Chiles is part of PAR who have demolished countless cracker cottages and replaced them with oversized boxes that all look the same.

    • diana says:

      YES! Chiles wants to advertise the charm of the island and at the same time ruin it for money!!!! In the last 10 yrs alone, they’ve managed to ruin sooooo much of a beautiful thing!!!!!

  3. Sandra D'Amato says:

    I had sent an email to you before this but it was never printed, so hopefully this one will! The old Florida we know of is well and gone, the tourism board has seen to this- yet they keep advertising as this! You all make me sick- everyone that came to this island and wanted to CHANGE everything!!! And the woman that owns the salon in Holmes Beach- your jealous because our town doesn’t look like all the other beach towns??? Well then move there if you like it better, quit trying to ruin it here!

  4. Patrick says:

    I am getting a little sick of all the island residents decrying the loss of “Old Florida” while they twist the knife in it’s soon-to-be-lifeless corpse.

    As someone who just last year purchased a 1942-built home on the island with the intent of maintaining “Old Florida”, I can tell you it is dying a long drawn out death over decades of (perhaps) well-intentioned but misguided zoning, building code and myriad other regulations – many designed to (ironically) prevent the destruction of the old ways.

    Consider:

    – “Old Florida” homes have livable ground-level units. “New Florida” requires a newer-better-compliant world where everything has to be on stilts. In my case, 14 foot above the current ground level. You can blame this on the Federal Government, but…

    Owners of “Old Florida” homes cannot reasonably amend, upgrade, repair or replace existing structures because of a 50% rule that intentionally reduces net value of the building. The home I bought is riddled with termites to the point it absolutely needs correction. I wanted to replace the existing upper-level wood structure (ground is concrete block) to maintain the old home using newer materials, but cannot do this under the current 50% rule – the per foot cost would exceed in large measure the 50% cost. In other words, the law won’t let me even fix the house.

    There is more, but the simple truth is that “Old Florida” homes are coming apart after 70+ years of island life – and we cannot fix them!

    It is impossible to build a new “Old Florida” home, too. Height restrictions and flood elevations are things that creative architects can work around. But not with the absolutely insidious zoning rules on the island.

    The two most egregious causes of “ugly box housing” are setback and allowable coverage. Small coverage percentages and strict setbacks REQUIRE a simple box on stilts for lots below 7000 square foot if you want a modern livable structure. Of course, forcing small internal structures with horrible design is awful for new young families like ours – but awesome for weekly rentals.

    I have lived in many great cities that hold smaller setback requirements and do it with aplomb. Impermeable coverage limits are extensible in modern cities simply by asking the homeowner to craft a water management plan using proven technology (cisterns, etc.).

    Did you catch that?

    Two kids, two home offices and livable bedrooms are impossible on 5000 square foot because of the rules on this island, but I can stuff a bunch of tiny bedrooms into the same and rent it for a profit. In simple terms, the zoning on this island makes it impossible to bring in the people you want, in favor of the people you do not want.

    I could go on. If this conference allowed me, I would drag my architect and several others on stage to prove definitively that “Old Florida” is not only dead, it was killed by the same people who decry its loss today.

    If I sound frustrated, it is because I am. I have tried several design and spent tens of thousands of dollars paying for ideas that might work under the current zoning regime – or the one about to replace it. The simple fact is it cannot happen.

    I have two choices: sell to a “land condo” developer or just do it myself. This means my Old Florida home is getting torn down and replaced by a “ugly box on stilts” – not because I want this, but because the so-called protectionist laws you have crafted are making me do it. How’s that for irony?

    Congratulations, Anna Maria – you got exactly the island you designed!

    (So stop whining – you did it to yourself)

  5. Patrick says:

    I love this bit from the article:

    Hiller mentioned how coastal Manatee exemplifies sustainable authenticity with its low-rise structures and measures that have kept the beaches open.

    There is nothing sustainable about laws and zoning which prevent the repair or existing Old Florida structures, in favor of their destruction and replacement with tall box designs.

    Or this sentiment, however well-intentioned:

    Conference planning discussions also included Teitelbaum, president of Anna Maria Island Resorts, including the Old Bridge Village and Tortuga Inn, Tradewinds and SeaSide Inn motels in Bradenton Beach.

    Teitelbaum agreed with Chiles’ assessment of Island tourism.

    “A few reckless developers are causing problems” for the Island, he said. He supported the conference for the eco-tourism, diversity of ideas and national recognition it would bring to the Island, but said he would abstain from voting if necessary.

    The majority of properties along Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach are 5000 foot lots, much like the rest of the island. Developers cannot recreate or repair the existing structures, at all. Tear-down is the only option, replaced by long, thin, tall buildings that look like wide-body rental units. Which is exactly what they become.

    Old Florida exists in the individual homes of this island – many of which will not exist on 10,000+ foot lots. That means there needs to be a system to allow repair and replacement of these structures with modernized versions.

    Creating an exception to the 50% rule for “Old Florida” structures would give families like ourselves options that are not on the table today.

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