Palmetto officials sour over renaming of Manatee convention center

nwilliams@bradenton.comDecember 20, 2012 

PALMETTO -- "Detrimental to our city and our businesses."

Those are the words used in a letter from Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant to Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie, chair of the Manatee County Commission, regarding the name change for Manatee's civic center in Palmetto.

In the four-paragraph letter dated Tuesday, Groover Bryant expresses both her and the Palmetto's City Commission's displeasure at the renaming of the Manatee Convention Center to the Bradenton-Area Convention Center -- and its exclusion of Palmetto.

Groover Bryant said she would like to see another name change.

The convention center is located on Haben Boulevard off U.S. Highway 41 in Palmetto, but there is no reference to the city in the new name or marketing of the location, Groover Bryant wrote. In addition, a new logo for the center mentions Bradenton, Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key -- but not Palmetto.

In September, county officials unveiled a $6.5-million renovation of the 60,000-square-foot building. The 18-month project, funded through tourist development taxes, is the first major renovation to the building since its 1985 opening.

"We are adamantly opposed to the rebranding of the convention center in Palmetto for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the committee that recommended rebranding the thirty-one year facility was not a representative of the entire county," the email reads. "Also, there was no vote on the name change by the County Commission itself until after the fact and only then without being on the agenda, which disenfranchised those from elsewhere in the county who might have wanted to speak on the matter."

Prior to the letter, Groover Bryant had previously publicly voiced her unhappiness over the name change. The frustration resurfaced during a Dec. 4 Palmetto City Commission meeting.

The letter to Chappie is signed by all five Palmetto commissioners.

Manatee Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who sits on the county's Tourist Development Council, said the renaming was not political and was done for the overall benefit of the county.

"We're sorry they feel the way they do," Whitmore said.

Whitmore said three advertising consulting firms all agreed with the name change and pointed out the rebranding does not include Manatee, Lakewood Ranch or Holmes Beach.

"We have to go with how we're identifiable," she said.

Whitmore said the current tourism brand will be revisited within 5-8 years to determine if it is targeting a desired market.

Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the new brand was designed to attract more tourists. Tourism had a $564 million economic impact on Manatee in fiscal 2011-2012.

Falcione said the firm hired to evaluate the county's previous brand gathered feedback from focus groups in New York, Boston and Chicago, among other places and determined visitors recognized the destination as the "Bradenton area."

"We as consumers are exposed to approximately 3,000 advertisements daily," Falcione said in an email to the Bradenton Herald. "If our brand is busy, or slightly confusing, then the prospective visitor could easily overlook it and move on. We needed a brand that would stimulate and entice the prospective visitor driving them to our website so they will buy. We believe this new brand will do that effectively."

But Groover Bryant said the Bradenton Visitor's Bureau website fails to promote Palmetto, along with Parrish, Myakka and the Manatee Fairgrounds, which is also located in Palmetto.

"That's how dysfunctional this process is," she said.

Former state representative, business lobbyist and Palmetto native Ralph Haben, now an attorney and mediator in Tallahassee, was the engine behind building the original Civic Center in 1980. Haben lobbied for and received state grants to help build the facility and wanted it to be used for everyone in the county, not just residents "north of the river."

"This thing is going in Manatee County," Haben recalled Thursday. "So I said, 'Let's get everybody together and get everyone pulling in the right direction.'"

Some suggested the original building be called the Ralph Haben Civic Center, but Haben refused. He preferred the Manatee County Civic Center.

News of rifts between Manatee's governments over the name was unsettling to Haben.

"The civic center created an opportunity for people not be antagonistic towards each other because of where they lived," he said. "We could have named it Palmetto Civic Center if we wanted to."

Groover Bryant said she won't stop discussing her displeasure until changes are made.

"Anywhere we go would be an improvement," she said. "I would like to see them change the website."

Those changes include revisiting the name of the building.

"It would be appropriate," she said. "I would hope they'd have more input and input from all residents in the county."

Nick Williams, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Twitter:@_1NickWilliams .

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