In the year of red tide, fewer people visited Manatee. But those who came spent a lot of money

It was bad, but it could have been worse.

The pain, that is, from months of red tide on Manatee County tourism, economist Walter Klages told the Manatee County Tourist Development Council on Monday.

Manatee County recorded 715,400 visitors in calendar year 2018, down 5,600 from 2017, Klages said.

Despite that, tourism’s economic impact grew to $973,798,800 during the year, a more than $37 million increase from 2017, he said.

December was a good month for tourism, even though the area was still dealing with lingering red tide, which has since disappeared from local waterways.

Resort tax collection was up 9.5 percent countywide in December, compared to the same month a year earlier, Klages said. The only cities reporting declining revenues compared to the previous December were the cities of Bradenton, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach.

There may be no one happier to bid good riddance to red tide than Elliott Falcione, executive director at Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Falcione noted that Premier Sports Campus at Lakewood Ranch helped keep an artery of tourism revenue open this fall when beach businesses were dealing with red tide.

In its first year of county ownership of Premier Sports Campus, the venue hosted 32 events, representing seven sports, and 21 recurring events, said Sean Walter, director of sports for the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Antonio Saviano, manager of Premier Sports.

“We’re planting a seed today,” Falcione said, promising to return in April with recommendations to improve Premier Sports Campus amenities that visiting teams and tournaments desire.

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A couple lounges in the sun on Manatee Public Beach. For the past few weeks, red tide has cleared out of the area, according to officials, and businesses are making more money than before. Bradenton Herald file photo

Among likely recommendations: upgrading to LED lighting on sports fields, providing permanent locker rooms, bathrooms and laundry rooms, adding an improved scoreboard and adding a multipurpose building.

Those improvements are necessary to be competitive with facilities offered elsewhere in the state, Falcione said.

The improvements, however, would not compete with facilities at IMG Academy, but would be complementary to them, Falcione said.

Also born of the red tide challenge is a concert series that is bringing more visitors to the Anna Maria Community Center and Manatee Performing Arts Center.

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Beach-goers and businesses on Anna Maria Island are happy that red tide has disappeared from Manatee County shores. Bradenton Herald file photo

Planned concerts include Judy Collins on March 8 at Manatee Performing Arts Center, and B.J. Thomas on March 13 and Marshall Tucker Band on April 1, both at the Anna Maria Community Center. Tickets are sold through the Manatee Performing Arts Center box office.

“We are already planning the concert series for next year,” Falcione said.