Allocating use of resort development tax called ‘confusing’

Lawyers attempting to define how Florida’s resort tax can be used by local governments say it’s one of the most complex sections of the state law.

The resort tax, enacted in 1977, is the 5 percent collected by Manatee County on property rentals of six months or less. Each county can establish its own resort tax rate. It’s officially called the “tourism development tax,” but it’s more commonly known as the “bed tax” and as the “resort tax.”

Attorney Bill Clague, an expert on the statute who works in the Manatee County attorney’s office, explained the law to county commissioners at their June 4 budget work session. He said use of the resort tax is one of the most misunderstood sections of the law.

“It’s very controversial, and very tricky to know what the money can be used for,” he said. “Basically, if it’s not permitted by the statute, it’s prohibited.”

The resort tax funds are administered by the county Tourist Development Council — a board of appointed citizens and a representative from the county board of commissioners. The TDC budget — including funding for the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau — must be approved by the county commission.

Resort tax money can be used to “promote tourism nationally and internationally, or an activity or event whose main purpose is the attraction of tourists, at least in part,” Clague said.

Clague said municipalities and counties can’t use resort tax revenue for their basic infrastructure needs, “even if that area has a large number of tourists.”

Non-uses of the resort tax include garbage pickup, law enforcement and maintaining streets, Clague added.

Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn, who did not attend the meeting, said she’s asked for funds to help improve the city pier, and was told the BACVB would split the cost with the city for an engineering study to determine the scope of work needed at the city pier.

She disputes the city paying half the study cost of $60,000, saying BACVB funds improvements and renovations at the Powel Crosley Estate and the Bradenton Area Convention Center.

However, Crosley and the convention center also have other revenues.

Also, the maintenance of the Anna Maria City Pier is presently provided by the city’s tenant, the City Pier Restaurant, according to the lease agreement.

The TDC has approved funding of up to $1 million for reconstruction of the Bradenton Beach Historic Bridge Street Pier, although work has yet to commence. The city provided engineering and a detailed scope of work to gain TDC approval.

During the county work session, BACVB executive director Elliott Falcione discussed the proposed $6.787 million BACVB budget for 2014-15 and provided an overview of county tourism.

Of the total BACVB budget, $4.85 million would be for “tourist development,” which was not detailed in the draft budget, and $1.922 million would go toward the convention center in Palmetto and the Crosley Estate, which is adjacent to the Ringling Museum near the county border with Sarasota.

Falcione said capital expenditures, such as for the Manatee Players theater in Bradenton, the convention center in Palmetto, beach renourishment, erosion control, beach facilities and piers are considered lawful uses of the tourist development tax.

Some island officials believe paid parking is needed to help defray the costs of heavy visitor traffic on weekends and holidays. In the past, they sought funding to compensate for wear and tear on roads and the increasing needs of law enforcement.

At the meeting, Falcione also addressed the push by elected officials in the three island cities for paid-parking programs.

Falcione said paid parking on the island “would cause us to lose grant dollars.”

State and federal beach renourishment funds are dependent on a certain amount of free parking for the public to visit the beaches.

County Commissioner Betsy Benac said there is “a lot of frustration among Anna Maria Island cities” that they can’t use resort tax money to make improvements.

“Maybe,” Clague responded, “but that’s the law.”

For fiscal year 2012-13, $8.99 million in resort tax was collected by the county. Of that amount, $4.405 million came from the Anna Maria Island cities, according to data from the Manatee County Tax Collector’s Office.


Area tourism plans focus on big splash for rowing event

By Rick Catlin

Islander Reporter

      Get your suntan lotion, shorts, polo shirts, beach towels and binoculars ready.

Those items will be needed when the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and its Sarasota counterpart host the International Rowing Federation World Championships at Nathan Benderson Park near the University Boulevard/Interstate 75 intersection.

The championships are not until 2017, but it’s best to be prepared for the big splash, Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau told Manatee County Tourist Development Council members June 6.

The championships are expected to bring more than 10,000 rowers, coaches and officials to the area. Better news is that an estimated 100,000 visitors from around the world are expected to attend.

And Falcione wants to take full advantage of the potential exposure the Bradenton area can get from co-hosting the championships.

TDC members voted unanimously to support a resolution that, if passed by the county commission, would fund advertising and marketing of the Bradenton area and the many attractions and tourist opportunities found here.

“The world championships will be televised around the world and available online as well,” Falcione said. “It’s vital our brand is showcased to viewers.”

Falcione wants a three-year commitment through the rowing championships for advertising at the park. Afterward, he and the TDC will determine if another three-years of advertising is warranted.

The BACVB logo, along with tourist information, would be visible at strategic locations around the venue.

Falcione noted the area’s “brand” has continued to bring more and more visitors to the area, as well as more national and international sporting events.

He said the move toward “rebranding the area” two years ago to focus more marketing and advertising on the “urban-core development” of Manatee County is paying dividends, with continued growth in visitor numbers and increased spending.

The BACVB’s “urban core” is the Lakewood Ranch area, he said, and it’s “now in good position” for tourism growth.

“We have a good product, but we have to keep pace. Lakewood Ranch is our future if we want our product to move forward. We have to keep our brand in the marketplace,” Falcione said.

Walter Klages of Research Data Services, the company retained by the BACVB to provide monthly and quarterly tourism data, brought even better news to the meeting.

Tourism to the area grew 6.7 percent from the October 2012-April 2013 period compared to the same months in 2013-14, he said. Economic spending by visitors jumped 11.2 percent during the two periods, rising from $269 million to $299 million.

The tourism news for the first three months of 2014 is just as bright, Klages said.

Occupancy of accommodations in the BACVB area during those months jumped 4.4 percent from that same period in 2013.

Lodging occupancy was 65.6 percent in January 2014, 89.3 percent in February 2014 and 93.1 percent in March 2014. For April 2014, area occupancy was at 75.3 percent, up from 72.1 percent in April 2013.

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