Anna Maria Island, Cortez get tourism funding approvals

MANATEE -- Up to $382,000 in tourism tax money could go to preserve the history and enhance parks on Manatee County's barrier islands and Intracoastal Waterway communities this year.

The spending was recommended during a Monday meeting of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council. The cluster of projects coincided with new mayoral administrations in the cities of Holmes Beach and Anna Maria, as well as a groundswell of interest in county history.

Council Chairwoman Vanessa Baugh, was particularly enthusiastic about boosting the county's historic profile.

"I've said this before, when I moved here many years ago, I miss the history," she said. "So for us to be working and really trying to improve our history here in Manatee County, I think it's so important because I think it's who we are."

Chief among the proposed expenditures is about $180,000 for a Florida Maritime Mu

seum expansion to remodel Cortez's historic Burton Store and Pillsbury Boat Shop. Other funds would go toward building a boardwalk in Holmes Beach, remodeling the entry to the Anna Maria Historical Museum, and clearing invasive vegetation from Gulf Front Park in Anna Maria. The Manatee County Board of Commissioners will decide whether to approve the funding at a future meeting.

Budgeted to cost more than $1.2 million when finished, the maritime museum project will create more room for programs, collections and its boat-building and maritime skills program. The tourism money would also partly fund construction of an outdoor pavilion at the museum's 3.8-acre property.

Amara Nash, museum supervisor, said the work falls in line with the county goal to promote tourist visits. In 2014, the museum drew more than 7,200 visitors to the working commercial fishing village

"Part of the beauty of Cortez is that it is the Cortez that it was at the turn of the century," Nash said. "Preserving this history and these buildings within the historic district is a source of pride to Cortez and Manatee County."

The tourism funds come out of a 5-percent tax on overnight accommodations. They can be spent on a variety of tourism-related expenses, including capital projects. The county collected more than $10.4 million from the tax in 2014.

Elliot Falcione, director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said preserving unique places not only makes for a better tourism experience, but attracts the attention of tourism writers and publications. That publicity, he said, is important.

"Travel writers are looking for something unique, something new, something nobody else has," he said. "All of these initiatives are all of the above."

The second-largest funding request approved this week is for $100,000 toward building a boardwalk through the Grassy Point n\Nature Preserve in Holmes Beach. Mayor Bob Johnson made the funding request. The city has committed to matching the funds with $100,000 from its own coffers.

In Anna Maria, about $77,000 in tourism money would go toward clearing part of Gulf Front Park. In his application to the TDC, Mayor Dan Murphy said the park's sand dunes along the Gulf of Mexico are overgrown with Brazilian pepper and cactus, and are inundated with garbage, including tires. The city will match TDC money and use the funds to clear and replant the dunes.

The smallest request was $25,000 to remodel the entry to the Anna Maria Island Historical Museum. In the application for the funds, Anna Maria Island Historical Society Board member Jonathan Crane said sprucing the entrance will make the museum an attraction that may convince overnight visitors to stay through the occasional spate of bad weather on the island.

"Sun, sand and fishing may be the draws, however, all visitors want a change of pace, particularly on cooler or more rainy days," he wrote.

All funding recommendations made by the TDC came on unanimous council votes.

Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.