County commissioners approve concession fund request

Manatee County concession fund
Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson addresses Manatee County commissioners during a presentation requesting use of concession funds for the three Island cities and The Center of Anna Maria Island. - Kristin Swain | Sun

MANATEE COUNTY – An influx of monies from the excess concession fund is making its way to the three Island cities and The Center of Anna Maria Island.

In a unanimous vote, Manatee County commissioners agreed to release the requested funds. Totaling $1,023,520, the request included $400,590 for bicycle safety improvements and $64,930 for pedestrian safety improvements in Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach, $25,000 for Holmes Beach Dog Park improvements, $35,000 for a kayak launch at Grassy Point Preserve, and $40,000 for Holmes Beach Skate Park improvements. All of those projects are listed at a 50 percent match for the Island cities. The request also included $25,000 for bicycle racks in Holmes Beach, $333,000 toward the Anna Maria City Pier rebuild, and $100,000 for capital improvements at The Center of Anna Maria Island.

The excess concession fund, managed by county commissioners, was established to hold funds received from the beach concessions at Manatee Beach and Coquina Beach for use for one-time projects benefitting the Island community. For any of the three cities to receive funds, the governments of all three Island cities must agree and present the request as a unit. The recently-approved list represents several months of work on the part of the Island cities’ leadership.

“This is a big step for Anna Maria Island, getting everyone to agree,” Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said. She congratulated the three Island governments on working together to agree on the list of projects and present the county leadership with a plan.

County Commissioner Betsy Benac said she appreciates the focus on safety with many of the approved projects. “I’m glad that you were able to work it out,” she said.

County Commissioner Stephen Jonsson also congratulated the Island government representatives on being able to come together to use funds that he said weren’t benefitting anyone, just accumulating. “It’s really refreshing to see you all work together.”

“We are very pleased with the outcome of the concession fund request,” Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy said. “We’re getting closer to achieving our goal of $4.5 million for our pier.”

During the May 22 county meeting, Murphy broke down the estimated total cost for the City Pier rebuild, which he said was “just about the amount of the city’s annual budget.” With $1.5 million pledged from Manatee County Tourist Development Council funds, $750,000 coming from state funds, and $500,000 pledged from Anna Maria city funds, that leaves $1.75 million for Murphy to come up with. In addition to the $333,000 from the county, he said he hopes more funds can be accumulated for the project from donations, FEMA and potentially the state historic board. “I don’t know how that’s going to come out,” Murphy said.

After the meeting, Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie also praised the county commissioners for their support and the Island city leaders for their work.

“You can’t go without saying that former Mayor Bill Shearon was part of the cities working together,” Chappie said. “It’s a great program that was developed by the county and it’s going for good causes, including pedestrian and public safety. It’s a boost for the community center as well.”

At a Holmes Beach commission meeting also on May 22, Mayor Bob Johnson shared the good news with commissioners.

“I have good news and it comes by way of the county,” he said. “It’s a good example of things coming together the way they’re supposed to. It’s there, we’ve got it, and the total runs about $1 million across the Island.”

Johnson also thanked county commissioners for their quick consideration of funding the projects list and their support of the Island communities.

County commissioners also can designate the funds for other purposes, which was demonstrated when they also voted unanimously to grant the Center up to $25,000 for a transit vehicle in a separate request by the Island nonprofit for assistance in purchasing an additional vehicle for student and senior transportation. Center board Chair David Zaccagnino said he was surprised by the county commissioners’ choice to award the monies from the concession fund but he’s pleased by their support of the Island nonprofit, which has struggled in recent years to receive large amounts of government support.

“We’re extremely grateful and extremely happy,” Zaccagnino said after the county meeting. He also thanked the county and Island city governments for coming together to support the Center using the “beer and pancake money” from the concession fund.

“A couple of months’ work is finally coming together,” Center Executive Director Chris Culhane said.