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County officials aim to relieve island tourism stress

By Rick Catlin, Islander Reporter

Hunzeker

Manatee County tourism officials are looking to attract more visitors to the county’s east side to ease the strain of tourism on Anna Maria Island, particularly during the winter-spring tourist season.

Speaking at the Anna Maria Chamber of Commerce board meeting Feb. 20, Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who also chairs the county’s Tourist Development Council, told board members the TDC and Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau are trying to bring more tourism to the east county area.

Whitmore said the island gets enough tourism without more advertising and marketing. But a number of hotel rooms and attractions in eastern Manatee County warrant promotion, she said.

A resident and former mayor of Holmes Beach, Whitmore said she knows first-hand how stressful the season can be for year-round residents.

“We don’t want to stress the island further,” she said.

The county is hoping to attract a major sporting event that promises to fill a lot of hotel rooms in the Lakewood Ranch area.

Manatee County administrator Ed Hunzeker said a joint effort by Manatee and Sarasota counties is under way to have the area chosen as the host site for the 2017 World Rowing Championships presented by the International Rowing Federation in Switzerland.

Hunzeker said the area is considered a leader as the 2017 host, but marketing specialists from both counties continue to travel to IRF countries to talk about the area and make presentations. He said it’s important to keep the area name “out in front.”

The championships attract about 42,000 competitors from more than 100 countries. Teams usually arrive at the host site several weeks before the championships to train and become accustomed to the venue, Hunzeker said.

Additionally, rowing fans from around the world will likely attend the championships.

He said the 2017 site winner will be announced at the 2013 World Rowing Championships this September in South Korea.

Hunzeker said if Manatee/Sarasota is named host, the two counties would “have a lot of logistics” to solve.

In other tourist-related news, chamber president Mary Ann Brockman said she’s received two complaints about over-booking by a member resort. She said, however, that she’s received fewer complaints this year than last year at this time.

Whitmore said the TDC “would not tolerate” such practices. “There might not be a lot we can do, but we can’t have that. We’ll call them and tell them we’ll do everything we can to stop this. Double-booking could ruin our image,” she said.

Hunzeker provided some good economic news, noting the former Siemens plant in Ellenton recently was purchased by Fled Entertainment, the company that produces Disney on Ice. Hunzeker said he expects Field to add a number of jobs to the area.

Whitmore announced Air Products Inc. is building a plant across from Port Manatee and it should hire about 200 people.

Hunzeker said county commissioners and staff have been discussing how the county will grow in the next 30-50 years. The general feeling is that most of the growth will take place along the I-75 corridor, he said. Not much growth is expected in west Manatee or on the island.

Board members also approved the chamber to be the nonprofit host of a symphony at Coquina Beach in November. The Anna Maria Island Chorus and Orchestra will perform, and a sit-down dinner will be an option for the event, said board member David Teitelbaum.

Teitelbaum said he has been working with Manatee County parks and recreation supervisor Cindy Turner on the event. He assured the board that the chamber would not have any out-of-pocket expenses. The cost of the symphony has not been determined.

The next board meeting is 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, March 20, at the chamber office, 5313 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach.

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