Red tide hit hard on Anna Maria Island
By some estimates, red tide has cost Manatee County $4.4 million in direct visitor spending since early August, dealing a harsh blow to tourism, the area’s leading economic engine.
Even though conditions have improved recently and visitors are returning to the beach, red tide is a naturally occurring phenomenon, aggravated by human activity, and could intensify again.
That threat, and the economic pain inflicted by red tide, were at the center of conversation Monday at the Manatee County Tourist Development Council meeting.
“We need to bang on the table,” said an impassioned Ed Chiles, a restaurateur who serves on the panel. “Enough is enough. We have to address what is coming out of Lake Okeechobee, cesspools, agriculture, shoreline restoration, sea grass and sewer treatment plants.
“We need to do everything we can to back away from the tipping point,” Chiles said. “That is Florida’s economy.”
In response to red tide, the TDC unveiled a new internet-based advertising “cure” campaign that will debut Nov. 1. The campaign will invite visitors to the area to make new memories and return home feeling better.
The TDC has $1 million in reserves for marketing, said Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
If visitor traffic doesn’t rebound fast enough after the all-clear signal for red tide is given, the EDC is prepared to spend $250,000 on marketing to get the word out, Falcione said.
Walter Klages, founder of Research Data Services, said red tide this year won’t deter visitors from returning to Anna Maria Island next year.
The most recent visitor figures reported by Klages on Monday were from August, which showed that hotel occupancy rates fell 13.7 percent compared to August 2017.Visitor spending fell $4.4 million in August, resulting in a $6.9 million economic impact, Klages said.
Jen Carlisle, regional partnership manager for Visit Florida, briefed TDC members Monday on the state’s red tide support program.
The program includes complimentary brochure distribution at all five official Florida welcome centers, complimentary booth display at four official Florida welcome centers, a free Small Business Marketing Partnership free through Feb. 28, 2019, and exposure on Visit Florida’s website.
In addition, Falcione said travel writers from around the country have been invited to the area in November to help get the word out about vacations on Manatee County beaches.
In other business, the TDC received a slide briefing from Fawley Bryant Architecture on what the block-long, $13.8 million City Centre parking garage, now under construction south of Bradenton City Hall, will look like.
The City Centre building will contain the Manatee Chamber of Commerce offices and provide 500 parking spaces for visitors, city and police staffs, South Florida Museum, and the eight-story Spring Hill Suites. The city expects to see a net increase of 300 parking spaces, said City Administrator Carl Callahan.
The west side of the building will be curved and designed to blend into Old Main Street. The east side of the building will feature the chamber of commerce offices.
The TDC also approved $5 million in bed tax money for the Coquina Beach parking lot renovation to be paid out over a 20-30-year period. The TDC, the county, Florida Department of Transportation and Manatee County are partnering to address flooding problems in the parking lot that make it unusable after heavy rains.
Renovations to the park and building an attractive greenway between Coquina Beach and Bradenton Beach could transform the area and make it much more attractive to visitors, Chiles said.