NAPLES — Collier County’s tourism bureau will get more money for marketing.
But it won’t come from county-owned museums.
On Tuesday, Collier County commissioners voted unanimously against a subcommittee’s recommendation to ween the museums off the tourist tax by 2013.
The money would have been redirected to tourism promotion. Commissioners on Tuesday approved another $2.1 million for marketing this year, but it will come from other sources, including reserves for beach projects.
The county’s museums rely on tourist tax money to cover their operating budget, which last year was about $1.2 million.
A subcommittee of the Tourist Development Council suggested phasing out that financial support beginning in fiscal 2011 to make more money available for marketing.
Speakers turned out in force at Tuesday’s commission meeting to weigh in on 10 recommendations coming from the subcommittee, which was headed up by Murray Hendel, vice chairman of the Tourist Development Council.
Hendel said the county needs to raise $1 million more pretty fast.
“The bottom line: We need to spend more money on advertising,” he said.
He called the recommendations “revolutionary,” saying they would enable year-round advertising.
Traditionally, the bureau has primarily advertised in the offseason, not in the fall or winter when visitor numbers rise.
After hours of debate, commissioners agreed to give the tourism bureau $750,000 from an emergency advertising fund, $350,000 in leftover marketing dollars from last year and another $1 million from two reserve accounts for beach projects to beef up marketing. That would give the bureau more than $4 million for its campaign this year.
The subcommittee recommended county commissioners take another $1 million away from beach funds next year to supplement the marketing budget. Commissioners voted against that idea, saying they first want to see the results from the additional money given to the bureau this year.
Many spoke in favor of continuing to give the county museums tourist tax money. They argued there was no other way to keep their doors open.
Murray Reichenstein, a longtime Naples resident, said he was concerned about what would happen if the tax money were yanked from museums.
“How would we keep the museums open?” he asked.
It’s easy to say the money would be replaced, he said, but he questioned where the money would come from.
“What are you going to do? Take away from education or health? You must be joking,” he said.
Without the museums, history will be lost and once it’s lost _ it’s gone, said Jacob Winge, the founder and president of Barron Collier High School’s History Club.
Then, he said, “everything is going to go down with it.”
The tourist tax comes from a 4 percent charge on hotels and other short-term rentals. Much of the money goes to beaches, but it also supports attractions and events in addition to paying for destination marketing.
The subcommittee making the recommendations was created earlier this year to look at ways to spend the tourist tax more wisely.
Hoteliers continue to lose business in challenging economic times. They’ve been forced to lay off employees and cut their hours.
Many in the audience wore green labels on their shirts that said, “I Love Tourism.” One of them was Rick Medwedeff, general manager for the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort and a member of the Tourist Development Council. He urged commissioners to approve more money for tourism marketing.
“Please don’t cut off the hand that feeds our community,” he said..
He favored taking the money from museums and redirecting it to advertising.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “It’s not like we are not in support of museums. I think museums are very important ... But they are not a significant driver of tourism in our county.”
Museum supporters saw it another way. They argued museums and tourism go hand-in-hand, and cited statewide statistics that show almost 75 percent of Florida’s tourists visit museums and participate in a cultural activity.
“Everyone doesn’t sit around in the hotel or go to the beaches,” said Nick Hale, president of the Friends of the Collier County Museum, a volunteer group that supports museums.
“Last month, we had 11 inches of rain and when it rains where do tourists go? Well a lot of them go to the museums,” he said.
Commissioner Tom Henning wanted to reject the subcommittee’s recommendation to stop giving museums tourist tax money.
He called the recommendation noble, but said it would be impossible to find another source of money to support museums when the county’s budget is so tight.
Commissioner Fred Coyle supported Henning’s motion and Commission Chairwoman Donna Fiala chimed in.
“This is part of the fabric of our community _ the museums,” she said. “If we don’t fund them this way, then we have to raise our taxes and nobody wants to see their taxes raised.”
Commissioners delayed a vote on some of the subcommittee’s other recommendations, including a suggestion to support a class-action lawsuit to try to recover lost tourist tax revenues from online companies that book hotel rooms. The commission did direct staff to continue efforts to collect unpaid tourist taxes _ another recommendation made by the subcommittee.
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Staff writer Ilene Stackel contributed to this story.
Connect with Laura Layden at www.naplesnews.com/staff/laura_layden.