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Date of Issue: March 04, 2009

TDC approves increasing bed tax 1 cent

The cost of renting an accommodation unit in Manatee County appears headed up effective May 1.

The Manatee County Tourist Development Council at its Feb. 23 meeting unanimously approved a recommendation to the county commission to increase the county’s resort tax from 4 cents per dollar to 5 cents per dollar.

Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Larry White presented a variety of possible projects for the additional funds, including improvements to pavilions at Coquina and Manatee public beaches.

Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, in her first meeting as the TDC chairperson, suggested the additional funds also would ensure a full beach renourishment when the next project begins in 2011 or 2012.

Public support for the increase came from Bernie Desear, who said he spoke on behalf of the many people interested in developing downtown Bradenton for the arts and culture. Desear said he supports the 1 cent increase, but would like to have a specific amount for arts and culture improvements dedicated in the next TDC budget.

Other members of the public also supported a dedicated amount for the arts.

 Nancy Flynn said studies have shown that people who go to a destination for arts and culture stay a day longer than their vacationing counterparts and spend, on average, an additional $120 per person per day.

If approved by the county commission, the earliest the increase could take effect is May 1, said White.

Manatee County administrator Ed Hunzeker said he and White will meet within the next 60 days and iron out a “draft budget” for the TDC that will be presented at the TDC’s April meeting. The draft budget will reflect a 1-cent increase in revenues from the resort tax, often called the bed tax, if the county commission approves.

It’s an increase that can’t come too soon, White noted.

Statewide, destinations such as Orlando and Miami are down “double digits” in bed tax revenues. Manatee County, however, is faring a little better, he said, but bed tax revenues last fall (October, November and December) were down 7 percent compared with the same months in 2007.

“We can’t be down in the February to May season, or there will be a big budget issue,” White predicted. “Money is the issue.”

White said he asks the BACVB financial officer every day if there are “any more beans in the jar” for TDC revenues. A bed tax increase will go a long way to increasing the number of beans, White said.

TDC member David Teitelbaum voted for the measure, saying the county has to have the money for the next beach renourishment cycle.

But the TDC-funded convention center is hurting for major conventions due to the lack hotel rooms nearby, Teitelbaum said. He suggested one way to make the convention center more attractive might be to convert nearby condominium developments sagging in sales into hotels.

Teitelbaum, who owns the Tortuga, Seaside and Tradewinds motel-resorts in Bradenton Beach, said one such condominium project — the Palms at Riviera Dunes — has a number of empty units and the project developer might be receptive to such a conversion. He said he would talk to the condominium developers to determine if there exists a level of interest and report back to the TDC.

But he also said it’s time for the county to take back funding of the Manatee County Convention Center. The county commission shifted the convention center funding to the TDC two years ago, a move that has not been popular among TDC members.

“It’s a county asset, not the TDC’s,” Teitelbaum said.

Hunzeker promised to look into the issue and acknowledged that, at a minimum, the convention center is a “shared asset.”

He added that a number of tourist assets are “long in the tooth, and now is the time to spend some money on them.”

The convention center annually costs the TDC about $900,000, money that could be better spent in marketing and advertising, Teitelbaum said.

In other business, Whitmore brought up the recent closing of the pier at Manatee Public Beach and the cost to repair or replace the pier.

She said some county commissioners “wonder why not tear it down and build it later.”

Whitmore, however, disagreed with that view.

The public pier is a draw for tourism and is extremely popular, she said.

 Whitmore said the Manatee Beach pier issue will be on the county commission’s March 3 agenda for discussion and a vote to either repair, replace, or demolish and leave an empty space.

Manatee County natural resources director Charlie Hunsicker has recommended that funding for either a new pier or replacing the current structure come from TDC revenues.

Whitmore said the TDC has about $1.4 million for a new pier, but the remainder would have to come from the county.