The Lee County Tourist Development Council (TDC) met in regular monthly session on Friday March 15, 2019. The Tourist Development Council is a nine-member Council appointed as an advisory committee to the Lee County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC). TDC members oversee the entire tourist development tax fund, provide direction on programs and budget, and review the expenditures of the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau (VCB) quarterly. The tourist development tax fund is a 5% tax due on all short term accommodation rentals of six months or less. The tax revenues are utilized approximately 50% for Lee County tourism marketing and advertising, 25% beach and shoreline maintenance, and 25% debt service and maintenance primarily on the Lee County Sports Complex and JetBlue Park stadiums and grounds.
Under normal business, bed tax and hotel occupancy figures were reviewed for January 2019 showing slight declines over the same period a year ago. This represents cautious optimism as it represents a reduction in the declines experienced since the arrival of Red Tide and Blue Green Algae blooms in late July 2018. Water quality continues to be a major concern of Lee County tourism, as it discouraged many new and repeat visitors to cancel trips, resulting in millions lost in revenues by those in the tourism industry.
The TDC approved an additional $1,100,000 in funding for the replacement of boardwalks, pavilion and kayak landings in the Matanzas Pass Preserve on Fort Myers Beach. The request came from the Lee County Parks Department and was approved from TDC reserve funds. This brings the total project funding to $1,725,000 based on the $625,000 already allocated to this project to date. Jesse Lavender of Lee Parks, and local FMB resident Ginny Smith reported that portions of the Preserve have been closed for almost two years, and the time has come to avoid future liabilities due to unsafe conditions and reopen access to a rebuilt and safe area to residents and visitors. The increase in funding was due to expanded repairs needed to bring the elevated boardwalks up to ADA standards, and more extensive damage discovered from tidal damage and Hurricane Irma, and portions of the existing Preserve boardwalk having exceeded their useful lives. With this immediate funding approval, the designs should be completed during the summer of 2019, with project completion by September 2019.
In other positive news, RSW Airport Executive Director Jeff Mulder, reported that continued growth of airport passenger traffic since the airport’s opening in 2005 require its first major remodeling. Early in the meeting VCB Director Piggott reported airport passenger traffic is up 8.7% YTD over same period a year ago. This fact is in stark contrast to the negative or flat year over year collections of tourist tax revenues. So travelers are still coming and going through the airport in increased numbers each year. With RSW constructed before currently required TSA security procedures, most travelers will appreciate the consolidation of TSA screening locations in all three current concourses to a centrally located location expanding total security lanes from the current 12 lanes (in 3 locations) to 14-18 total lanes with better TSA staff scheduling options. In addition, travelers will also notice some modernized aesthetics at airline ticket counters, more self-check in kiosks, and increased retail and concessions beyond the TSA security screen check point. Timelines for this project are to complete design work in 2019, commence bidding in early 2020, and start the project in 2020, with an expected 2.5 year project time frame. The challenge of keeping the airport operational during the remodeling projected will be partially mitigated by a lot of work to be done during night-time hours.
In other business, the TDC approved subcommittee recommendations on Events Marketing and Attraction Marketing funding guideline changes. The changes all attempt to improve application timelines and efficiencies, and clarify changes to qualifying eligible activities and events. The changes are available in detail by calling the Lee County VCB at 239-338-3500
Absent from the announced agenda due to storm related flight cancellations, was Emmy Hise, who was scheduled to present the Hotel Industry Overview report from STR, formerly known as Smith Travel Research, based in Tennessee. The next TDC meeting will be April 11, 9:00 am at Lee County East Admin Building , 2201 Second St, Fort Myers.
By Bob Layfield