Not all Anna Maria Island elected officials are pleased with the growth of tourism to the island, particularly the increase in the number of visitors who come to the island on weekends and holidays.
Members of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council heard from Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn and Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti at their Aug. 19 meeting that all is not well in paradise.
SueLynn said there is “no question of the success of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau,” but some of that success comes at the expense of the quality of life in her city.
For the six-day period from July 3-9, which included the July 4 holiday parade and fireworks celebrations, SueLynn said a Florida Department of Transportation traffic counter recorded an average of 11,500 vehicles per day entering Anna Maria.
While that’s good news for the BACVB, SueLynn said Anna Maria “simply does not have enough parking spaces for all the visitors. We can’t keep up with parking requirements.”
She said “greed is ruining the island” because the BACVB continues to promote Anna Maria Island as the area’s top tourist attraction.
Tourism continues to rise monthly, putting a strain on infrastructure, she said. But the city cannot use resort tax money collected by Manatee County for improvements to roads or to add parking, she said.
The BACVB data for May shows tourism increased 4.5 percent from the same month in 2012.
SueLynn said resort tax data provided by the Manatee County Tax Collector also indicated tourism was up in June and July, and she expects a similar increase in August. The resort tax is the 5 percent collected by Manatee County on rentals of six months or less.
She said the more marketing the BACVB does, the more visitors come to the island. This results in more resort tax being collected. As more visitors come, more homes are converted from residences to vacation rentals. As more homes become short-term rentals, more tourists arrive, creating problems for a small city such as Anna Maria.
It’s a “vicious cycle,” the mayor said.
The mayor said the city is particularly susceptible to problems caused by “day-trippers.”
She said traffic congestion, parking, trash left on the beach or in a resident’s yard and a shortage of restroom facilities are all issues faced by the city because of day-trippers.
“I’ve been asking and asking for help from the TDC. Where is the agenda item that discusses giving back to the island?” she asked.
“All I keep hearing is we get beach renourishment from the funds. That’s not good enough for us to preserve why everyone comes here,” the mayor said. “The TDC success is destroying the Anna Maria Island style of living.”
The mayor acknowledged that state law limits the use of TDC funds to tourist development.
“Still, I think the TDC should find ways to give back to the island cities,” she said.
She said Anna Maria and Holmes Beach are discussing paid parking and a toll to enter Anna Maria Island “is no longer a laughing matter.”
“We will do whatever we have to do to protect our way of life, and we are hoping for TDC assistance,” she said.
SueLynn said one area the TDC can allocate resort tax funds is the refurbishing of the Anna Maria City Pier, which is permitted by the resort tax statute.
However, terms of the city pier lease require the leaseholder to maintain the pier, and pilings, stringers and plank replacements are an ongoing project of the tenant.
Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti said there is “no more free ride” for the day-trippers who visit his city. He called for open dialogue with the TDC on “what type of visitor we want” to the island,” and how best to use available funds and resources to help island cities.
“We can’t just say we don’t want tourism. We do, but we want a balance in the type of visitor” that comes to the island, Monti said.
TDC chair and County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, an island resident, said she understands the issues. She said she’s asked county administrator Ed Hunzeker to get a legal opinion on spending resort tax funds.
“We understand your stress, but we can’t wreck what we have. We have to go through the process. At the same time, we are at a tipping point. Let’s try to maintain a balance,” Whitmore said.
BACVB executive director Elliott Falcione said he’s discussed island issues with Hunzeker. He suggested island officials contact Hunzeker and meet with him to find solutions and funding. It’s more appropriate for Manatee County to disburse funds than the TDC, which is limited by law on how resort taxes are spent.
“It’s important we maintain the character of the market, but we need to start with good dialogue. Let’s work together and find a good balance,” he said.
Bradenton Beach Mayor John Shaughnessy asked the TDC to help the city fund rebuilding the Historic Bridge Street Pier.
Whitmore suggested the mayor bring a plan back to the TDC with cost estimates and studies.
In other business, Jack Rynerson of the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport said he just returned from the world rowing championships in Sweden.
“I heard from many international rowing officials that there is almost no way we won’t get the 2017 world rowing championships,” he said.
Sarasota-Bradenton is in competition with Bulgaria to host the 2017 International Rowing Association’s world championships.
The championships are expected to draw about 40,000 people, in addition to about 1,200 competitors and coaches, Rynerson has said.
The next TDC meeting will be at 9 a.m. Monday, Oct. 21, at Bradenton City Hall, 101 12th St. W., Bradenton.