Pier may get $1.5M in tourist tax funds

Anna Maria City Pier
A rendering of the new Anna Maria City Pier shows solar panels on the roof. - Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau | Submitted

ANNA MARIA – The Manatee County Tourist Development Council (TDC) voted unanimously on Monday, Dec. 4 to recommend that the county reimburse the city up to $1.5 million of the $3.2 million cost of the Anna Maria City Pier platform renovation.

If the County Commission approves the plan, the county will match the city’s expense dollar for dollar up to $1.5 million, reimbursing the city for its expenditures beginning Oct. 1, Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Elliott Falcione told the TDC.

The county’s share would come from tourist tax proceeds, paid by owners of accommodations rented for six months or less who charge the tax to their renters, in most cases, tourists. By state law, piers are an approved use for the funds.

An iconic symbol of Anna Maria Island and a community gathering place, the pier was substantially damaged by Hurricane Irma in September and closed.

Local businesses near the pier have been suffering ever since, Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy said.

“Thank you for the recommendation. It means an awful lot to us,” he told the TDC. “It’s the focal point of our city, but it’s also a focal point of the county.”

“This partnership not only benefits tourists, but also benefits our local residents, and that’s the perfect partnership,” Falcione said, adding that renovations would allow water taxis to dock at the pier, which was not possible due to the pier’s “rickety” state.

The $3.2 million will pay for the gangway, T-end and the replacement of 50-year-old plumbing under the pier, Murphy said, adding that the renovation of the restaurant and bait shop at the end of the pier would bring the total needed to $4.5 million.

The city also has requested FEMA funds, which could reduce the tourist tax contribution, according to the contract.

“There was significant damage to all of it because of Hurricane Irma,” Murphy said. “It cannot just be patched back together.”

The material to be selected for the pier – wood or a manufactured composite – will be discussed at a city meeting this week, he said.

Doug Copeland, an Anna Maria commissioner and the TDC member who made the motion to approve the expenditure, thanked the TDC for supporting the city on the pier project.

TDC member Ed Chiles pointed out that despite criticism that not enough tourist tax funds are allocated to the Island that attracts tourists, the TDC “unanimously approved support for a project that has needed renovation for a long time.”

“It will be a home run,” he said.

Holiday special Sunday

A one-hour special, “Sand, Sun and Holiday Fun,” by Chad Crawford, of the “How To Do Florida” television series, will be broadcast on Sunday, Dec. 10 at 1 p.m. on local CBS affiliates. Crawford produced an episode of his series in Bradenton a year ago, which aired only in Florida, according to Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Elliott Falcione, adding that the holiday special will air in markets nationwide, including Pittsburgh, which has a new non-stop flight to the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport.

Tourism report

In other business, the TDC learned that September brought a flurry of visitors to Manatee County, but they were mostly Hurricane Irma refugees or rescue workers, according to  Walter Klages, of Research Data Services, the county’s tourism consultant.

Statistics for September, typically the slowest month of the year, showed that visitation was up 8 percent, room nights were up 8.3 percent, the average daily rate was up 8 percent to $154.80 and economic impact was up 14.7 percent, he said.

Much of the increase did not apply to Anna Maria Island, which was evacuated prior to the storm, he said, adding that some of the increase is due to post-storm visitors who attended the World Rowing Championships at Benderson Park.

The average length of stay increased from 4.9 to 5 days from the previous year, with more families and single visitors and fewer couples. September occupancy was up 2.9 percent to 61.2 percent.

Visitors who arrived at Tampa International Airport increased while those from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport decreased, also due to Irma, Klages said.

The median income of visitors was $107,000. The CVB is “targeting north of $125,000,” Falcione said. “We’re getting better visitors coming in to the destination.”

For the county’s fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, visitation was up 4 percent, with almost 713,000 visitors, translating to an increased economic impact of 6.4 percent, or nearly $1 billion for the year.

Inventory – short-term rentals in hotels, motels and condominiums – grew by 5.5 percent, Klages said, not counting Air BnB and similar sites that do not necessarily report rentals to the tax collector.

Occupancy was down one-tenth of 1 percent to 70 percent while the average daily rate was up 3.4 percent to $172.80.

Florida set another tourism record by welcoming the most visitors of any nine months in the state’s history with 88.2 million visitors during the first three quarters of the year, according to Visit Florida.

The record represents a 3.3 percent increase over the 85.4 million visitors from the same period in 2016, and includes 77.6 million domestic visitors, 7.9 million overseas visitors and 2.7 million Canadian visitors.