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Tourism year-round due to collaborative efforts

April 25, 2012
By Commissioner Ray Judah , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Easter used to mark the end of tourist season but thanks to the vision and outstanding work of the Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau and Tourism Development Council, visitors from all over the world enjoy our well-maintained beaches and amenities throughout the year. A strong collaborative partnership between the VCB/TDC and the Lee County Port Authority, with professional assistance from our marketing agents in German-speaking countries, the United Kingdom and Canada promote Lee County as the premier vacation destination for tourists throughout the world.

The tourist tax is divided into three basic categories: 54 percent for marketing and advertising, 26 percent to maintain and manage our beaches and 20 percent for capital projects such as baseball stadiums. Recognizing that our beaches and waterways are the foundation of Lee County's multi-billion dollar tourism economy, the TDC has funded more than $48 million during the past 10 years to manage and re-nourish our beaches and protect and maintain our rivers and coastal estuaries.

Over the years, Lee County has worked with federal, state and local governments, along with special taxing districts such as the Captiva Erosion Prevention District, to ensure the proper management of our beaches from Boca Grande and Sanibel/Captiva to Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Beach. Tourist tax funds are also used extensively for county-wide projects such as rehabilitation of the fishing pier on Fort Myers Beach, nourishment of Yacht Club Beach in Cape Coral; restrooms on Sanibel, Bonita Beach and Lovers Key; and construction of numerous beach parks along our county coastline. Summer tourism is enhanced with TDC support of The Great Calusa Blueway for canoe, kayak, and paddleboard enthusiasts.

Over the past eight years, the TDC has funded efforts to develop stricter water quality standards and landmark legislation to protect and restore the Caloosahatchee and coastal estuaries. However, increased federal and state funding for enhanced water storage and treatment of excessive releases of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee coupled with meaningful changes in public policy by the South Florida Water Management District for managing Lake Okeechobee as a living ecosystem rather than a reservoir for agricultural runoff would greatly reduce adverse harm to the Caloosahatchee and coastal estuaries.

The TDC also understands the importance of diversifying amenities to strengthen the flow of tourism revenue into our local economy. To that end, the tourist tax was used to build the Minnesota Twins Spring Training Complex and JetBlue Park. Major League baseball teams, amateur baseball organizations, and collegiate baseball and softball tournaments all place a lot of heads in beds while pumping more than $75 million annually into our local economy and extending the use of the stadiums far beyond the Spring Training season.

The Fort Myers Miracle call the Lee County Sports Complex home for their 150-game season from April to August, and the Gulf Coast Instructional League uses the facility in the fall and winter. Amateur baseball tournaments are scheduled throughout the year intermixed with non-baseball events such as concerts, and garden and RV shows.

JetBlue Park was designed to provide soccer fields after spring training and in fact, the South Florida Knights Soccer Club, a youth soccer organization with Global Premier Soccer, recently announced that JetBlue Park will be their new home starting this fall. The Knights will partner with North Fort Myers, Gateway and Sanibel soccer clubs. Furthermore, the Boston Red Sox will use JetBlue Park for rehabilitation of injured players and their Minor League rookie program. Other non-baseball events will include outdoor family movie nights, recreational sports leagues and concerts.

The VCB and TDC have done an extraordinary job of balancing the use of tourist tax revenues to increase the flow of business to our motels, hotels, restaurants, retail stores and attractions; provide responsible stewardship of our precious water resources; and support a variety of amenities with year- round use.



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