It was cold and blustery Monday morning along the beaches of Anna Maria Island, with larger-than-usual blue-green waves breaking on shore.
Visitors were bundled in jackets and long pants to ward off the 63-degree chill as they walked along the sand or sat in folding chairs.
But at least it wasn’t snowing and there was no sign or smell of red tide.
Not that there haven’t been flares recently at Robinson Preserve and along Palma Sola Causeway.
Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, has been saying that he believes the worst is over.
But after Monday’s Manatee County Tourist Development Board meeting, he said that tourist bed tax collections in the new fiscal year could be down as much as 10 percent.
For the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, two months after red tide first appeared on Manatee County beaches, bed tax revenues — the tax collected on hotel stays and home rentals — were up 10.3 percent.
In October, bed tax collections were down 3 percent across the county.
Figures are still being finalized for November, but aside from bed taxes collected in unincorporated Manatee and the city of Palmetto, collections by local cities were in the red, compared to the same month a year ago.
In unincorporated Manatee County, which accounted for 44.75 percent of county collections for the month, bed taxes were up 8.4 percent. In Palmetto, which accounts for less than one percent of Manatee bed taxes, they were up 29 percent.
Bed tax collections were down for all of the island cities, ranging from a 24 percent decline in Bradenton Beach to 1 percent in Anna Maria.
Despite the news on red tide, members of the tourist development board came away from the meeting encouraged by plans for special events next year to attract visitors and residents, the growing success of sports-related tourism and the growth of passenger traffic at Sarasota Bradenton International Airport.
Low-fare carrier Frontier Airlines started service Monday at SRQ with non-stop flights to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Philadelphia International Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Connections will be available to select cities across Frontier’s network. Frontier is offering fares as low as $29, which are available at FlyFrontier.com.
In the past year, SRQ has added two new airlines, 20 new routes and 15 new destinations, and seen double-digit increases in passenger traffic, said Rick Piccolo, the airport’s president and CEO.
On Monday, the TDC recommended investing approximately $1 million over the next two years in SRQ’s marketing incentive program. For each dollar contributed by the TDC, the airport contributes $2. None of the TDC or airport money comes from property taxes. The airport is self-supporting, taking a percentage of each business activity on its premises. The recommendation goes to the county commission for approval.
“You brought us a good Christmas present. It’s been tough, what we have been through with red tide,” TDC board member Ed Chiles said.
A number of special events are planned for 2019, including a series of four “unplugged” concerts.
Judy Collins, known for her rendition of “Amazing Grace,” “Send in the Clowns,” and “Both Sides Now,” is scheduled to perform March 8 at the Manatee Performing Arts Center. Tickets are on sale ranging from $85 to $135.
Performers for the other three concerts have not been announced. Two of those planned concerts will be in the Anna Maria Community Center.
Another big name, Jane Seymour, is expected in Bradenton on Jan. 18-19. Seymour, known for the TV series “Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman” and the movies “Live and Let Die,” “Somewhere in Time,” and, most recently, “The Female Brain,” is scheduled to do a heart-healthy cooking demonstration with Chiles and to discuss her art.
The TDC also recommended spend $50,000 to bring motivational speaker Mary Parker to Bradenton to present a women’s entrepreneurial empowerment summit on Feb. 2 at the Bradenton Area Convention Center in Palmetto.
“We are starting to brand the Bradenton area as a viable convention area,” Falcione said.
Some of Monday’s most encouraging news came from Sean Walter, director of sports for the EDC. There were 98 major events held in Manatee County in 2017-2018, and 108 are planned in 2018-19, Walter said.
Among those events, many held at IMG Academy in Bradenton or Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch, were the U.S. Soccer Boys and Girls Nike Friendlies, which attracted more than 6,000 players from around the U.S., Portugal, Turkey, Brazil, France and China.
The Fort Hamer Rowing Center quietly attracted many of the nation’s top collegiate rowing teams for winter practice, including Harvard, Georgetown, Dartmouth and more.
Among other sports tourism related events were the International Goalkeepers Conference, USA Baseball Performance Development League and Baseball Factory.
Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy reported that a $3.3 million contract was awarded to Infrastructure & Industrial Contractors Southeast Inc. to rebuild the Anna Maria Pier, which was so badly damaged by Hurricane Irma in September 2017 that it had to be rebuilt.
Completion of the pier is anticipated by August 2019. All construction materials will be barged to the site, rather than trucked overland. A request for proposals to rebuild the restaurant and bait shop is expected to be issued within the next few months. That project may not be completed until early 2021.
“We’re anxious to see the pilings go in the ground in January,” Murphy said.
Doug Copeland, Anna Maria city commissioner and member of the TDC, said the news of progress on the pier is welcome.
“I see people standing there, looking at it longingly,” Copeland said of the pier.