The Manatee County Tourist Development Council on Monday unanimously agreed to contribute up to $1.5 million for the replacement of the Anna Maria City Pier and $3.2 million for the acquisition of Premier Sports Campus at Lakewood Ranch.
The board also agreed to spend $800,000 of tourist taxes for the construction of a multi-use facility and restrooms at Premier Sports Campus.
Both votes go before the Manatee County Commission on Thursday for final approval.
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The historic Anna Maria City Pier, built in 1911, was so badly damaged by Hurricane Irma in September that it must be torn down. The bait shop and restaurant will also have to be replaced.
“We are excited today to partner with the city of Anna Maria. That’s why we wanted to have the meeting here,” Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said at Anna Maria City Hall.
Replacing the pier will cost an estimated $3.2 million. The tourism council will match city funds on a one-to-one basis up to $1.5 million over the next two years, Falcione said.
The city also has the opportunity to pursue reimbursement for its loss from FEMA, he said.
We are certainly are suffering at this point with the businesses down by the pier. The lack of traffic since it has been closed has had a significant impact.
Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy
The pier is iconic, and one of the county’s leading tourism draws.
“This is not just an island project. This is important to all of us,” Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston said.
Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy said the funding from the tourism board is important.
“This means an awful lot to us. Our pier is the focal point of our city, but it is also the focal point I believe of a great deal of the county. At one point, it was recognized as the most important tourist destination in the county,” Murphy said.
“We certainly are suffering at this point with the businesses down by the pier,” he added. “The lack of traffic since it has been closed has had a significant impact.”
Murphy said he has met with state Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, who has agreed to request $750,000 in state funds for pier replacement.
The jury is still out about help from FEMA, Murphy said, but added he came away encouraged in the meetings he has had with federal officials.
In Monday’s other big vote, council members enthusiastically agreed to help out with the purchase of Premier Sports Campus.
“This thing we are doing with Premier Sports Campus is a win-win,” said Carol Whitmore, a county commissioner who chaired Monday’s tourism board meeting.
Developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch has offered the 127-acre park, complete with 23 contiguous grass fields, a 3,200-seat stadium, field lighting, and several buildings for $5.2 million.
An estimated 82,500 people will use the campus this year. In 2016-2017, the stadium had $14.1 million in economic impact to the area.
“It drives new dollars on a year-round basis,” Falcione said.
Although the campus brings in soccer teams and other grass sports from around the country, 52 percent of the users are local, he said.
The county is getting a $20 million asset for $5.2 million, Falcione said.
In other business, Walter Klages of Data Research Services provided an update on the state of tourism in Manatee County for the 2017 fiscal year.
Visitors to Manatee County grew 4 percent to 712,900 from the previous fiscal year, and the economic impact grew to $923,074,700, Klages said.