Environmental conference slated for Anna Maria

HOLMES BEACH -- The Manatee County Tourist Development Council will contribute $25,000 to ensure a new environmental conference comes to Anna Maria Island, the first of its kind for the coastal community.

The unanimous TDC vote from Holmes Beach City Hall on Monday is expected to bring more than 125 visitors to the island during three days in October to discuss preserving Florida's environmental character.

Conference organizer Herb Hiller first got the idea to launch the inaugural event in Anna Maria during a vacation several months ago, when he realized while biking along the island that it fit perfectly into his concept.

"The great value in having the conference here is to show the place as it is," said Hiller, a lecturer and strategic planner. "There's an integrity to coastal Manatee County that's pretty rare."

The Sustainable Authentic Florida conference will feature six keynote speakers and an array of environment-related forums from Oct. 17 to 19 at the Island Players Theater.

But unlike most "green" conferences, there won't be any scientists talking about technology or experts on how to fund it, Hiller said.

The focus instead will be on what allowed communities like Anna Maria to preserve its old-Florida charm when others around them were building high-rise condos.

Officials from Anna Maria, DeLand, Wauchula and Miami Beach will give 90 minute show-and-tell presentations on their sustainablity efforts.

"We have always said you can't find another Anna Maria Island, and we want to protect it," said Elliot Falcione, director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitor's Bureau. "This conference will give us the tactics and techniques to preserve that character."

Tourism stakeholders

touted the conference as a way to increase their focus on family-friendly visitors who are looking for a quiet, charming vacation -- not the party-first spring breakers.

The visitor's bureau will contribute $25,000 of the conference's $65,000 total budget. At least 100 island rooms are expected to be booked in connection with the event.

Before voting, TDCmembers David Teitel-baum and Ed Chiles disclosed that they had previouslydiscussed the conferencein its early stages of devel-opment, never thinking it would ultimately come before the TDC for a formal vote.

But staff from the county attorney's office advised the meeting was not unethical and did not violate the Florida Sunshine Law, as both were acting on behalf of their private businesses. Neither was recused from voting.

"We're looking for the visitor who comes here for the quality of life and quiet enjoyment," said Teitelbaum, who owns four hotels on the island. "Everyone who owns here was a visitor first, and we want to attract more of those type of owners."

Josh Salman, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @JoshSalman.