The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 13 No. 31 - May 22, 2013


Tourism marketing budget soars

Manatee County plans to spend nearly $8 million to market itself as a tourist destination over the next two years.

The proposed tourism marketing budget for fiscal year 2014 is $3,921,020 (from a total Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau budget of $6,557,635), while the marketing budget for fiscal year 2015 is $3,969,804 (from a total budget of $6,504,419).

The marketing budget for each year is about $1 million more than this year’s marketing budget of $2.9 million.

The funds are generated by tourism resort taxes – paid by lodging visitors – which have been rising due to record tourism, as well as increased collection efforts by the county’s tax collector. The county spends one fifth of the taxes on beach nourishment and the rest is allocated to the county’s tourism agency, primarily for marketing and advertising to draw more tourists to the area.

The high season that just ended continued a record upward trend for tourism, which was up 9.3 percent in 2012 over 2011, with 537,908 visitors to the county, according to the CVB.

The achievement has generated complaints from Anna Maria Island residents about noise, crowds, traffic and parking, among other issues.

Less is more

“Is there a point when this will affect the quality of life?” Manatee County Tourist Development Council (TDC) Chair and Island resident Carol Whitmore asked Elliott Falcione, director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), at a meeting last week in which the TDC unanimously approved the budget recommendations to the county commission.

“Marketing is one thing, but certain things are out of our control,” Falcione responded. “It’s how the municipalities manage their cities.”

Commissioners in all three Island cities have lamented a state law passed in 2011 that prevents municipalities from regulating vacation rentals unless local ordinances already were in effect when the state law was passed. Discussions continue on repealing the law in the 2014 Legislative session.

In recognition of overcrowding on the Island, Falcione said the CVB is promoting off-Island destinations such as the Pittsburgh Pirates, the DeSoto Heritage Festival and agricultural tourism destinations in east Manatee County, like Mixon Fruit Farms and Dakin Dairy.

“I think overall we’re trying to focus on the four corners of the county,” he said.

Other tourism officials have said the destinations are day trips made from the Island.

Falcione said that some local tourism industry operators believe in the less is more theory – if hoteliers would increase daily rates, fewer people will come, but will spend more money – but most small lodging establishments can’t afford to take the chance, he said.

Falcione said he hopes that Anna Maria Island does not follow Clearwater’s path; 30 years ago, Clearwater was comparable to today’s Island, he said.

“We’re trying to do even keel, year-round sustainability, but the word is getting out more and more,” including from computer savvy Island tourism operators like restaurant owner Ed Chiles, hotel owner David Teitelbaum – both TDC members – and rental agent Larry Chatt, he said.

If the CVB shifts too much marketing money away from the peak winter season, “it will cost us four to five times more to get back the market share we just gave away,” Falcione said. “Our charge is no major peaks or lulls, but strong tourism year around.”

New marketing efforts

In the next couple of years, tourism officials hope to increase visitation from Tampa/St. Petersburg, the Island’s number one feeder market, through partnerships with the Tampa Bay Rays and the Tampa Bay Lightning, Falcione said.

Other market niches will be developed, including arts and culture tourism, agritourism and culinary tourism, he said.

The CVB is looking to invest in special Island events like SandBlast and Symphony on the Sand, with the intent to help them grow to multi-day events that cause people to spend the weekend.

Other efforts include partnering with the Sarasota Film Commission to promote Manatee County as a film location.

Tourism officials also are vying to attract a statewide tourism show, Florida Huddle, to the Bradenton Area Convention Center in 2015, he said.

Texas is a new target market, particularly Dallas and Houston, that will diversify the local tourism base in case another Hurricane Sandy impacts tourism from the Northeast, Falcione said.

The CVB also plans to target international sports, using IMG, Nathan Benderson Park, Ellenton Ice and the Pittsburgh Pirates as possible venues for athletes from Brazil, China or Europe and for an upcoming international rowing championship.

The CVB budget is scheduled to be presented to the Manatee County Commission for approval on Wednesday, June 5, at the County Administration Building, 1112 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

Suit filed against Carleton

A lawsuit has been filed against Michael Carleton, owner of the now-defunct Coast Line Realtors, accusing him of embezzling escrow funds on a house sale that never materialized.

Daniel S. Spitzer filed the suit claiming he never got the $41,500 he paid in escrow back from Carleton after the short sale of the home for $415,000 fell through.

Spitzer demands triple the $41,500 back ($124,500) along with attorney’s fees.

The suit was filed April 19, but the case began Dec. 9, 2011, when Spitzer wrote a check for $15,000 as part of the escrow to Carleton. On March 2, 2012, Spitzer wrote a second check for the rest of the amount, $26,500. Carleton allegedly deposited the checks at Hancock Bank, formerly known as Whitney Bank.

The suit alleges Spitzer never got his money back.

The United States Postal Inspector’s office is looking at allegations that Carleton took money from potential vacationers for rental units and never provided the units or switched to units that rented for less money. He allegedly kept the money from some renters or was slow in repaying them.

The Holmes Beach Police Department was investigating Carleton until the postal inspectors took over. Holmes Beach Detective Sgt Brian Hall turned over more than 60 individual cases.

Carleton also lost his real state license for a year after the Florida State Department of Business and Professional Investigation cancelled it.

Carleton reportedly lives in Bradenton.

Ralph’s gone, will reopen in town
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Ralph's owner Dave Russell stands at the
entrance to his new restaurant in Bradenton.
Russell said he hopes to be open in about two weeks.


BRADENTON BEACH – Commissioners voted on Friday to accept $15,000 in full payment of past due rent and terminate the city’s lease with Dave Russell of Rotten Ralph’s restaurant on the Bridge Street Pier.

Commissioners asked Police Chief Sam Speciale to have the locks changed on Saturday, the official day of the lease termination. The next business day, Monday, was the deadline for Russell to make the payment and provide proof that he has paid the remaining $3,200 left on his $14,000 WastePro utility bill, which the city would be responsible for if he fails to pay.

Mayor John Shaughnessy questioned whether WastePro had made a separate agreement with Russell giving him until the end of the month to pay the garbage bill. City Attorney Ricinda Perry said she told WastePro that if they made such an agreement it was in violation of the city’s termination agreement and that WastePro would be liable to collect that debt instead of the city.

The city could sue Russell for failure to make the two payments by Monday, but would be asking for the full $266,000 the city claims he owes in back rent, late fees, retroactive rent increases and other charges, according to Perry.

Commissioners had previously declined proposals by Russell to give his restaurant equipment to the city in partial payment of his debt, or to pay $65,000 on condition that he remain the concessionaire for at least 13 years.

Russell has said that storm damage to the pier and the city-owned floating dock in June 2012 hurt business and that the amount of his debt grew out of control because the city added late fees and refused to accept partial payments.

Meanwhile, Russell was busy Monday afternoon getting ready to open his new restaurant, to be called simply Ralph's, in Bradenton. The new eatery, at 5942 34th Street in El Conquistador Village Plaza, will have an expanded menu with more appetizers and different sandwiches.

Russell said Monday the new restaurant will initially be open for lunch and dinner and may eventually serve breakfast as well.

"I was sad and disappointed things didn't work out on the pier," he said. "But I'm very happy to be getting a new start."

Russell added that he was able to keep all of his employees who wanted to stay with him at the new Ralph's. He said his goal is to be open in two weeks.


Performance artist wows audience at Affaire
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Pat copeland |sun
Stewart Moon Jr. greets guests and offers them
a glass of champagne as they enter An Island
Affaire at the Island Community Center on Saturday night.

ANNA MARIA – The Grand Ballroom of the Island Community Center was filled with excitement as artist Brian Olsen brought his performance, Art in Action, to the stage at An Island Affaire Saturday.

Olsen dipped into pots of bright colors of paint lining the floor below a large canvas and using brushes, fingertips, palms and elbows began painting a famous face as music played in the background. As he progressed, people began guessing the person.

“He was phenomenal,” declared Janae Rudacille, a member of the Affaire committee. “I had heard about him, but didn’t know how cool he would be in person.”

At the VIP pre-Affaire party, Olsen painted Albert Einstein. At the Affaire, he painted Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon and Mike Alstott, former Tampa Bay Bucs fullback. The paintings were auctioned during the live auction.

“We had great feedback on him,” said Scott Dell, the Center’s assistant executive director. “It was really different. At the end of the night, he took photos with people who bought his paintings and others who came on stage. The stage was filled with people.”

“I loved the music,” Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said. “The artist was really different and cool.”

Raffle winners

Whitmore and her daughter, Janae Rudacille, also were big winners of the two raffles. Whitmore won the black diamond pendant donated by Bridge Street Jewelers and Rudacille won the iPhone and iPad sponsored by Anna Maria Island Resorts.

“This is the third time I’ve won jewelry at these events,” Whitmore said. “I had gone home and was pulling into my driveway when I got a text that I won, so I went right back. I have it on now; it is beautiful.”

Rudcille said her husband Scott, as chair of the Center’s board of directors was given $100 worth of tickets to sell and explained, “It can be a challenge to sell all of them, so we bought them all. Our son, Cale, who is 3, just broke our iPad, so I’m very excited.”

Dell said the event was a success and added, “From our preliminary first glance at the figures, it looks like the event is slightly down from last year, but still very good and we are excited.”

He said the auction of Olsen’s four paintings made $16,000. During the live auction Jacob Castro, 11, played two songs on his guitar and sang “Halleluiah” and “Black Magic Women” for the cash-call and raised $23,000 for the kids’ scholarships program.

In addition, Castro and his agent agreed to auction off a 90-minute private concert with the Jake Castro Band at the Community Center for as many guests as they would like. This sold for $2,500.

Director comments

The event was the first Affaire for Executive Director Dawn Stiles, who said. “Since arriving at the Community Center in early April, staff members have been busy with the planning/execution for the Island Affaire. Over the past two weeks, efforts ramped up further.

“In addition to their primary job, the staff and volunteers worked tirelessly in early mornings, late nights and weekends to assure that every detail was in place. I have tremendous respect for our loyal employees and volunteers and their level of dedication and commitment.

“I am also gratified by the generosity of our donors who came out to make this night a success. Many of the individuals I spoke with on Saturday evening spoke passionately about their experiences growing up at the Community Center and the impact it made on their lives. Their donations will make it possible for another generation of youth to have this same experience.”

Affaire committee members and lead volunteers included Laura Alderson, Katie Berzowski, Katy Demick, Harrison Franke, Erin Heckler, Jennifer Kaleta, Stewart Moon Jr., Ed Moss, Emily Moss, Janae Rudacille, Lauren Sato, Jennifer Sayko and Monica Simpson.

Fire board approves tax assessment rate

BRADENTON –Fire commissioners approved a 1.91 percent increase in the fire assessment rate for the 2013-14 budget after two commissioners sought a lower increase.

The fire district charges an assessment rate based on the type of parcel and the number of square feet. It can only raise the rate as much as the Florida Personal Income Growth (PIG) rate, which is 1.91 this year.

Fire Commissioner Randy Cooper said half the proposed increase is due to increased expenses and half to cost of living raises. He asked commissioners to eliminate raises this year in order to lower the increase.

Chair David Bishop said they have not gone through the budget process yet.

Fire Chief Andy Price concurred and said, “This is my best guess. It’s so far out from the budget process that we only have preliminary figures. We may have higher costs. Whatever we approve tonight we cannot change.”

“I appreciate being frugal,” Bishop said. “The average increase is $4 to $5. We have no other way to raise funds. I think we’re being prudent.”

Cooper said it is the first time the district has increased the rate to the maximum percentage allowed.

Price agreed, but pointed out that it is the lowest PIG they have ever had to consider and will be lower in the future. He said in the past when the PIG was higher, they did not increase rates to the maximum allowed.

“The PIG is to be able cover the increased cost of doing business,” Price explained. “If you don’t give us enough revenue, we may have to use reserves next year.”

Fire Commissioner Scott Ricci agreed with Cooper. The rate was approved 4-1 with Ricci dissenting.

New rates

The following are the fire assessment rates for 2013-14 with the 2012-13 rates in parentheses:

• Vacant lot: $22.76 ($22.23);

• Single-family residential/condo, mobile home: $172.55 ($168.49) for the first 1,000 square feet and .102 (.100) cents per additional 1,000 square feet; residential/condo with sprinkler systems discounted 25 percent;

• Multi family residential: $172.55 ($168.49) per unit for the first 1,000 square feet and .102 (.100) cents per additional 1,000 square feet;

• Commercial: $407.19 ($397.61) for the first 1,000 square feet and .176 (.172) cents per additional 1,000 square feet; commercial with sprinkler systems discounted 25 percent.

Road and bridge work continue

It’s spring, and the road crews are out fixing and improving our roads and bridges.

Work continues State Road 684, Cortez Road between 102nd Street West and 119th Street West as crews trim trees around streetlights. There will be a westbound lane closure through Thursday, May 23, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Work continues on the Anna Maria Island Bridge substructure on State Road 64 (Manatee Avenue). The majority of repair work will be below bridge decks at the water level. Motorists should expect intermittent nighttime lane closures from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Crews are making repairs to the sidewalk along Manatee Avenue from 75th Street West to the Perico Bayou Bridge. Motorists should expect intermittent westbound lane closures from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. through Friday, May 31, weather permitting.

The inside westbound lane of Manatee Avenue from 45th Street West to Palma Sola Boulevard will be closed through Friday, May 24 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day while crews are landscaping.

Motorists are advised to use caution around road projects and don’t speed, as fines are doubled for speeding through an active road project.

Required parking for restaurants to increase

HOLMES BEACH – After considerable discussion, commissioners agreed to increase the number of parking spaces for new restaurants, assembly halls and changes of use from one for five seats to one for three seats.

The issue was raised at recent work sessions, and Commissioner Judy Titsworth said she found that the parking requirements had changed not only for restaurants, but also for hotels and motels; assembly halls; business, professional and government; and general commercial.

“My concern is that we’ve decreased requirements so much and parking was something Holmes Beach was always very proud of, “ Titsworth said. “Because it has changed, I want to understand why these changes happened and to make sure we’re OK with them.

“I’d hate to lose our parking and become Bridge Street (in Bradenton Beach) or Pine Avenue (in Anna Maria) where people fight for parking spaces.”

City Planner Bill Brisson said the code changed in 2010 when the commission became concerned about parking being too strict. He said at the time, he agreed with all the changes except for restaurants and assembly halls, which he felt should be one for every four seats.

He said requiring parking for employees, which was eliminated for all categories in 2010, is difficult because businesses can grow and add employees.

“I would suggest that you to try to find out if the parking standards you have are working and get an idea of where they are not working,” he said. “Then we can find out why it’s a problem.”

He said the new requirements would only apply to new businesses, and they could not require existing businesses to retrofit.

Why it changed

Chair Jean Peelen asked why the parking requirements changed, and Brisson said commissioners at the time were more business friendly.

“Economics,” Commissioner David Zaccagnino added. “We had a lot of businesses leaving the Island, and citizens were concerned about losing small businesses.”

Peelen asked if the concern is only about restaurants. Titsworth said it also is businesses such as Publix and the Dollar Tree store, and there are no parking requirements for outdoor dining.

“Are people parking in the right of way or where they don’t belong? Brisson asked. “The reason for parking requirements is not to make everybody comfortable or provide parking for businesses, but to ensure that adjoining properties and the traffic on the road is not affected by the lack of parking.”

City Attorney Patricia Petruff said parking became a major controversy when Shells restaurant opened in the Anna Maria Island Center.

“It was so popular that we did have people parking on the right of way and in driveways,” she said. “It had all the parking that was required for a retail shopping center, and those owners had no idea (what would happen) when they changed the use.”

She said the results were that site plans showing parking are required to be recorded and shared parking was implemented. She also agreed with Brisson regarding a parking study “so we know what we have” and said one solution could be valet parking.

What to do

“Look at peak times during the season,” Marvin Grossman stressed. “It’s a sign of what’s going to be happening, and we need to prevent it from getting worse.”

He said if the commission continues to reduce the parking requirements and allow more restaurants, it would increase the problem.

“This is our city; we have a lifestyle choice. Do we want to provide only for the tourists so they can have parking and we can have more and more of them and be business friendly?

How about citizen friendly? We were elected to be concerned about our citizens and their lifestyle.”

“We have finite space. It’s a small town, and we’re very popular,” Zaccagnino countered. “You can’t prevent people from coming on the Island and shopping at Publix by limiting the spaces.

“If you have one space for three seats or one space for five seats, it will still be full. Look at other things rather than trying to limit businesses. We need to find other ways like valet.”

Titsworth said her concern is for the future and asked for Brisson’s recommendation. Brisson said he would not object to returning to one space for three seats for restaurants, but to leave the other categories alone.

Mayor Carmel Monti asked if they could refuse to allow any more restaurants, and Petruff said no.

Reaching consensus

Commissioner Pat Morton said restaurants increase their hours to serve both lunch and dinner creating a problem and added, “Go back to what we had. We have to get control of it now.”

Brisson said if they agree on one space for three seats for restaurants, it should include employees.

“We can’t just look at parking,” Monti pointed out. “We have to look at congestion. I think we have to limit the number of cars that come on the Island. If it’s bad now, what’s it going to be five years from now, whether we have parking spots or not?

“We need to get more use out of the trolley, the water taxi and whatever means we can to get people to the Island and not more cars.”

Peelen said, “Restaurants seem to be the crux of this. Not businesses, not public assembly halls. Is there a consensus for reducing it from five to three and requiring it for change of use?”

Titsworth said they should also change it back for assembly halls. Brisson said those are primarily churches, but Titsworth pointed out that “Mainsail has an assembly hall.”

The motion to include restaurants, change of use and assembly halls was approved. The regulation of one parking space for three seats includes employees.

Petruff recommended that staff look at the uses and number of parking spaces in the city’s shopping centers.

Board approves Silver Surf rehab


This rendering shows the resort looking east from
Gulf Drive. The office, to the left, would get a new
roof and covered area for guests who want
to relax or watch the Gulf of Mexico.


BRADENTON BEACH – Plans to give the Silver Surf a makeover and add some amenities got approval by the Planning and Zoning Board on Wednesday, May 15.

The board voted unanimously to recommend approval to the City Commission, which has the final say.

The plans for the major development include a new façade for the venerable resort, which was known as the Harbor Light Motel in the 1960s. The plans also call for enlarging the main office area to include a continental breakfast area with outside seating for guests only, a viewing and sunning deck above the office, rooms in the north building, a larger swimming pool area with a spa and a viewing deck in front of the south building.

City Planner Alan Garrett said in a memo that they would remove four parking spaces from the pool area, but that would not put the remaining number of spaces below the minimum requirement. He also said the rehab would place part of the building’s façade into the setback area, so a variance would be needed.

Angela Rodocker, who runs the motel along with her mother, Barbara, said their first priority was to beautify the property because it needs it. She said, however, they do not intend to make the breakfast area into a restaurant, and they don’t plan on making the motel a destination for weddings on premises, meaning they are not trying to expand the size of the motel.

“We want to expand the size of the office because it is small and not what people enjoy.” Rodocker said. “We will remove some vegetation when we expand the pool, but we’ll add some where the shuffleboard court was.”

She said they feel the changes will increase the curb appeal of the resort.

There was one problem, the Rodockers did not include a site plan drawn to scale, and board member John Burns called them on that because he had questions about whether the changes would or would not drop the number of parking spaces under the minimum.

Garrett said he reviewed the full set of plans, which the Rodockers did not include.

“I know it is difficult for the board to scale with what they have, but there are drawings to scale,” Garrett said. “We walked the premises, we measured and stepped off areas.”

Burns said it looked like they would drop below the minimum required parking spaces, but the Rodockers said the number of spaces was calculated conservatively, and they felt they would reach the minimum number.

Burns reiterated his need to see a site plan, but Chair Pat Whitesel said she trusts the building official and she would not need to see a site plan. Building Official Stephen Gilbert said the plans are legal.

There were no comments from the audience, which included two city commissioners.

After discussing the plans, board member Dan DeBaun moved to accept the major development plan with the provision that the owners get a variance for the front setback. They voted unanimously to recommend the city commission accept the plans.

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