MANATEE -- Traffic congestion between the mainland and Anna Maria Island has pushed down sales on the island, a Holmes Beach business owner said Friday.
"The marketing of the beaches is working," said Sean Murphy, with Beach Bistro. "The problem is that the traffic is such that people can't go to the island and spend money. Sales are down because of traffic."
Island traffic congestion and parking were among the issues Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker addressed during Friday's Manatee Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Bradenton Country Club, As 2016 marks Hunzeker's 10th year at the helm of the county, he addressed issues ranging from traffic to redevelopment of the urban corridors.
"That is a community wide issue," Hunzeker said of the traffic problem, which used to only occur during March and summer holidays. "We ought to take a look at what we are doing. ... We ought to
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take an unified approach of how it is we are going to address the traffic and parking issues on the island."
While Manatee County has among the highest impact fees of counties on the West Coast, Hunzeker said the county needs to "start looking at how are we going to manage the assets that we currently have and how do we do that better."
"It's working with the island and the county to figure out a plan for parking on the island," he said.
For the past 20 years, there have been complaints about parking and traffic on the island and instead of continuing to complain for the next 20 or more years, Hunzeker said they need to "get serious about sitting down and talking about what can we do."
Park 'n ride lots, working with the Florida Department of Transportation for tolling the bridges to the island or water taxis could be among possible solutions, Hunzeker said.
"We need to tackle that issue," he said.
Many want to be here
While Manatee County government does have challenges ,including financial issues that are expected to come to a head in 2018, Hunzeker said local residents still live in paradise.
"The whole world wants to be here," he said.
"It is important to think out 30 years," he said. "What do we want this place to look like? It's not what we want it to look like. There is a group that they call millennials. They got a different mindset. They are going to be the ones running this place. What do they want? Where are the roads going to be? Where are the parks going to be? Where do we need libraries? It's time to plan for that."
Redeveloping the urban core is as important as the new growth, Hunzeker said.
"We, in Florida, are really good at dealing with new development," he said. "We don't know much at all about redevelopment but we are embarking on that."
In some of the older neighborhoods, some pride needs to be built, Hunzeker said.
"We need to help those neighborhoods that were built before the current regulations were in place," he said.
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.