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.