BRADENTON -- Lack of a quorum kept the Tourist Development Council from voting Monday morning, but they did address one important piece of business: naming Manatee County's Parks and Natural Resources Department Director Charlie Hunsicker as Tourism Ambassador of the Year.
Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, presented the award after Hunsicker finished his own presentation. Hunsicker briefed the TDC on the Robert L. Wiegel Coastal Project Award from the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association, a national award the county won earlier this year for its work renourishing Anna Maria Island's beaches.
Falcione and TDC members praised Hunsicker's work and the effect it has on the area's tourism efforts. Ed Chiles hailed Hunsicker as "one of the finest public servants I've ever seen." Falcione presented Hunsicker with a towel and water bottle along with the award.
"We're giving you this branded towel because it's time for you to lay on the beach you've created for the community," Falcione told Hunsicker.
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Members Jack Rynerson, Dale Sconyers and Ed Chiles were present. Members Vernon DeSear, David Teitelbaum, Scott Busby, Jean Peelen and Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston had excused absences, Falcione said.
The council also bid farewell to chair Vanessa Baugh.
Baugh, county commissioner for District 5, was named chair of the Manatee County Board of County Commissioners on Dec. 1. She said she thought it was best not to tackle both duties at once.
At-large county Commissioner Carol Whitmore, a resident of Anna Maria Island for 47 years, was appointed chair of the TDC at the same time.
Whitmore previously served as TDC chair for three years before Baugh's tenure. As a longtime island resident, Whitmore said she "lives and breathes" tourism. She remembers meeting with county officials during her time as Holmes Beach city commissioner and as Holmes Beach mayor regarding tourism.
"We said, 'we need your help promoting the island,'" Whitmore said. The island hardly has to promote itself anymore as visitation increases every year, and continued support for the island as tourism surges is an important part of what the TDC does, she said. Now her focus, along with the rest of the TDC's, is on boosting Manatee County's tourism scene beyond Anna Maria Island.
"I'm looking forward to continuing to diversify tourism," Whitmore said. "I want to spread the wealth throughout the county and not just on the island. I'm interested in sports and our farm-to-table programs; a big part of Manatee County is farms."
Baugh said she is looking forward to seeing Manatee County's arts and culture scene continue to grow.
"I'm really excited about the arts center," Baugh said. "I would love to see cultural events expand."
Cathy Mijou, development coordinator at ArtCenter Manatee, presented an update on the center. The recent renovation of ArtCenter Manatee, 209 9th St. W., will help the center reach its goal of being "the premier art center in Manatee County."
The renovation included new flooring and outside signage, an expanded artists' market, three new kilns and an exterior paint job. The ArtCenter is working with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program to re-landscape the grounds and help protect the Manatee River watershed.
Next year's Fine Arts Festival of Manatee County, held at the end of February, will be in downtown Bradenton and showcase work by artists from all over the U.S. More than 99 artists have applied for the festival, Mijou said, and about 40 percent of them will be selected to travel to Bradenton.
The ArtCenter's economic impact, through festivals, events and the more than 340 classes offered for children and adults, is roughly $1.7 million every year, Mijou said.
Baugh's support of the arts and culture scene, as well as the rest of Manatee County's offerings, came through when she told the Herald how she feels about the TDC at the end of spearheading it for two years.
"I'm proud of this board and the support we've given to the community," Baugh said. "And it's not just the beaches; it's the whole county."
Janelle O'Dea, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095 or follow her on Twitter@jayohday.