The islands of Manatee County form a blend of unique communities. Stretching from the city of Anna Maria to Longboat Key there is distinction in the types of communities but a common bond of a city on a barrier island.
As a County Commissioner, I have volunteered to serve on the Tourist Development Council (TDC) and have served as chairman over the years. My goal has been to insure the advertising dollars from tourist taxes are maximized to insure our tourism economy remains prosperous.
I established the policy of monitoring our advertising and promotional efforts to insure we have a return on our investment. My business experience has helped guide policies for the efficient use of our tourist tax. Prior to my involvement tourist taxes were spent for advertising without knowing the responses generated. During our budget process we have a full accounting of the responses for all our advertising including our promotional expenses. We also receive reports at our TDC meeting to reflect the effectiveness of our advertising efforts. Our efforts have been rewarded by a stable tourist economy even when other markets in Florida were depressed.
When I became a Commissioner as hard as it is to believe, Gulf Drive was slated to be four lanes with four lane bridges at Manatee Avenue and Cortez. Knowing this was not acceptable we did two things, first we removed the four lane road plans to the Island and along Gulf Drive. Next we applied for a grant to fund the trolley to keep cars off the road. The first attempt failed when the financial support from the islands could not be met. I never lost hope for the trolley and serving as another volunteer position on the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), I revived the trolley concept again. This time I suggested just doing Anna Maria Island. When the grant was applied for Manatee County decided not to ask the Island cities for any money. We were awarded the grant and the trolley today is a huge success in not only keeping cars off the road but as a benefit to the tourist as a huge attraction. The trolley was such a huge success that Longboat Key decided to allow a trolley to run the entire island. I am proud to report we have regional trolley system from the tip of Anna Maria Island to the City of Sarasota. It is one of my proudest accomplishments.
The Beaches of Anna Maria Island are another important asset to our tourism economy. During my term in office we have been able to do several nourishments of our beaches. This is important to maintain our tourism economy and to protect the structures along the beach. I remember walking the beaches when I was a little younger than today and there was almost no beach in front of many parts of the beach. The buildings were usually damaged from storms so there was a depressed feeling around some of our beaches. Today, there is a wide beach, homes that are rebuilt and a quality feel to our beach community. Another side benefit is the beach allows the sea turtles to continue to nest.
I was lucky to be sitting on the beach and watch a turtle crawl out from the gulf and lay its eggs no more than eight feet from where we were sitting. It was such a great testament to the quality community we have.
The island communities are one of my favorite places to visit and vacation. So many people travel from all over the world to enjoy our island communities. All we have to do is drive a few minutes and enjoy a part of the world that has so many things to offer. I am proud to be a part of the reason our islands remain a place so many want to vacation.