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Date of Issue: May 17, 2007

Center cools to Verizon cell tower, plan advances slowly

amicc-new-bldg.jpg
Center going up
Anna Maria Island Community Center development director Aida Matic talks to electricians Ron Spears, at left, and Brandon Shook as they near completion of the gymnasium in the new Center facility on Magnolia Avenue in Anna Maria. The construction company has indicated that the staff can expect to begin moving back in around the last week in June. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

April tourism brought a smile to many of the Island's accommodation, retail and restaurant owners as occupancy was up 1.3 percentage points from the same month last year, a sign that tourism is making a comeback after a two-year decline.

The Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau reported April occupancy for Island accommodations was 61.8 percent compared with 60.5 percent for April 2006.

For the three month period from February to April, occupancy averaged 71.9 percent against the dismal 65.8 percent occupancy for the same three months last year.

Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce director Mary Ann Brockman said the six point jump in occupancy was reflected in heavier than usual traffic on the Island's roads, overflow parking at the Manatee Public Beach and reports of a good season from members.

"I didn't have anyone tell me they didn't have a good season. A lot of our members were so excited about their traffic and several retail outlets said the season was fantastic. Plus, we've been extremely busy at the chamber," said an enthusiastic Brockman.

The fact that the Web site TravelAdvisor named Anna Maria Island No. 1 on its Top 10 list of "hottest destinations" in the United States for 2007 certainly didn't hurt, she added. The No. 2 destination was Hawaii, while Siesta Key finished a "distant third" on the list.

But the 2007 winter season is still behind the February through March period for 2006, when Island occupancy averaged 79 percent for the three-month period. This past season also pales against the 80 percent average occupancy for the same three months in 2005.

"Still, this season was a great sign," said Brockman, noting that the chamber had 1,266 walk-ins in April requesting information on accommodations. In addition, the chamber mailed 592 packets on Island tourism to various individuals that month.

And the influx of visitors might not slow down this summer.

The CVB is attempting to boost summer tourism with its "All that Jazz" program that will compensate Island establishments that feature jazz music during August. The program has targeted jazz enthusiasts in Germany and Europe as potential travelers to the Island and a large contingent of those jazz lovers is slated to hit the Island this summer if the CVB marketing strategy works.

Additionally, the Island should benefit from an extra two weeks of summer vacation for Florida school children.

August is the traditional month for Florida families to hit the beach, but those plans have been hampered the past few years by an early August beginning for public schools.

This year, the Florida Legislature has mandated an Aug. 20 start date for public schools, in effect giving school kids and their families an extra two weeks to hit the beaches.

"I know that's going to help the Island," said a confident Brockman.

Island occupancy in August is generally about 30 percent, although it did climb to 43.2 percent in August 2005.