Manatee County TDC says ‘yes’ to future aid for island tourism

On the heels of what some Anna Maria Island accommodation owners say was the best winter visitor season ever, Manatee County Tourist Development Council members have agreed to work with island officials on some of their tourism concerns.

Traffic is of particular concern to TDC member Ed Chiles, an Anna Maria resident and owner of the Sandbar and BeacHhouse restaurants on the island and Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant on Longboat Key.

“I’d like to work together on traffic and look at that 30-45 day period in February and March when we have several choke points on island roads,” Chiles said at a TDC meeting April 21.

“It would benefit the island and show we are trying to work to solve island issues. At least let’s look at any possible solutions.” He suggested traffic control officers might be considered at some of the choke points.

Good idea, said TDC member and Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen.

The problem, she said, is the island “doesn’t get much in terms of resort tax dollars,” although the island is “the jewel in the crown of area tourism.”

A large portion of the tax is allocated for beach renourishment, with other funds going to the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Manatee/Bradenton Convention Center, the Powel Crosley Estate, professional baseball and other tourist-related county projects. Any resort tax expenditures must be for a tourism-related and approved by the TDC.

Peelen said it might be time for a long-term vision statement for the island. She said Longboat Key had one done for $125,000, but that is a lot of money for “three little cities with three little budgets.” The TDC could help fund such a study, she said.

Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston said the study has merit, but should include the island’s relationship to the rest of Manatee County. He suggested there might be enough Bradenton and Manatee County staff with the expertise to perform such a study.

TDC member David Teitelbaum, owner of four motels in Bradenton Beach and an Anna Maria resident, agreed, saying his concern is some people think “close the bridges and we don’t want any more tourism. We need a unified, non-hysterical approach to deal with island problems.”

Among Teitelbaum’s concerns is “large houses that have been built and rented that become over-crowded,” and operate as “pseudo-hotels.”

He added that enforcement of ordinances at rentals is an issue.

“It’s a question of quality of life for our visitors and residents,” Teitelbaum said.

BACVB executive director Elliott Falcione said it’s not always the case that resort tax money does not come back to the island. One exception is beach renourishment funding.

He also reminded board members that the TDC pledged up to $1 million for Historic Bridge Street Pier improvements and is “looking for a similar partnership” with Anna Maria to improve its city pier.

Although tourist surveys have been discontinued, the Anna Maria City Pier ranked many times in the past as the No. 1 visitor attraction in Manatee County.

Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn did not attend the TDC meeting, but said later that she has discussed the city pier with Falcione, although not since last October.

She said Falcione proposed a 50-50 split on a $60,000 study of pier improvements. The mayor said the city did not have the money at that time to move forward.

Falcione said Lakewood Ranch is the prime area to build a major sports venue to attract national and international events. Those events include lacrosse, soccer and swimming, among others.

While Falcione said he sees the “future of tourism growth” taking place in Lakewood Ranch, Manatee County Commissioner and TDC Chair Vanessa Baugh said the county’s tourism future “is everywhere in Manatee County.”