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Rios: 'People are taking it out of context.'

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Marco Island city councilor Victor Rios is facing backlash after making seemingly negative comments about tourism during the April 18 Collier County Tourist Development Council (TDC) workshop.

During the workshop members of the TDC discussed continued concerns about using tourist tax dollars to build a multimillion-dollar amateur sports complex.

Councilman Clark Hill said he feared the bonds might jeopardize funding for beach renourishment and tourism marketing if the county saw a significant downturn in visitation, because paying off the bonds would come first, pulling money away from the county's other priorities, according to previous reporting.

Several other council members shared Hill's concerns, including Rios, who stressed the need for more money to keep up the county's beaches.

"We know we don't have enough money as it is," he said.

Rios then went as far as to ask, "Do we need more people here? Winter is hell."

Members of the community immediately criticized Rios and said he should not be serving on the TDC if that's how he feels about season.

“This is not what one would expect to hear from an elected official to the TDC. The purpose of the TDC is to encourage tourism, not discourage it,” Judy Sacher wrote in an April 25 letter to the editor. “Maybe Mr. Rios needs to remove himself from the Collier County Tourist Development (Council).”

Dianna Dohm, executive director of the Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce, echoed Sacher’s sentiments in an April 28 letter to the editor, and called upon the City Council to immediately remove Rios from the TDC.

“I ask Councilman Rios, why do you live here?  Did you not realize that Marco Island is and will always be a vacation destination, as well as, a vibrant community of businesses and residents?” she asked. “Councilman Rios words cannot be undone or taken back, therefore it must be undone by action.  The Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce is asking the City Council to do the right thing and request the removal of Councilman Victor Rios from the Collier County TDC and place a qualified representative to reflect your positive commitment to the taxpayers, businesses and residents of Marco Island.”

She then noted that Rios’ attitude is directly contrary to the Mackle brothers’ vision for the island.

“The company expects that as the community grows, its business and commercial life will expand too, and younger working families will comprise a sizable part of the population," Dohm quoted from the Deltona Corporation’s 1964 Annual Report. "However, it is expected that most of Marco Island’s growth will derive from tourist activities and from the demand for second homes for vacation, weekend and other leisure use.”

Attorney Patrick Neale agreed.

“The people who fight commercial development on the Island do not understand what the real original vision was for the island,” he wrote in an email response to Dohm’s letter. “(Rios’) attitude is anathema to the whole purpose of the TDC. It is, however, the attitude Mr. Rios has always had. I sat with him on the Collier Citizens Council and he was a devastatingly negative force. His attitude on the TDC can and will cost Marco massive amounts of TDC funding in the future.”

However, City Council Chair Larry Honig said he thought Rios was a positive force for the Marco Island community, which is why he recommended him for the TDC in the first place.

“I supported Victor Rios's appointment to the TDC because I thought he would be a forceful advocate for Marco Island. You may recall that I was on the Coastal Advisory Committee (CAC) briefly in 2013, before business obligations made continuing too difficult, and I served with (Rios),” he wrote in an email to Dohm. "He was astonishingly effective, productive and positive for Marco Island. That was my experience with him."

Rios clarified his comments and said he's not anti-tourism, but pro-infrastructure and pro-beaches.

"That quote was a very short part of a very long discussion about the sports complex and people are taking it out of context," he said. "I wasn't trying to say a negative thing; what I was trying to say is that we need to answer some questions before we build an amateur sports complex."

The TDC needs to answer two questions specifically, Rios said: 1. How is it going to improve the county's infrastructure to accomodate the additional traffic the complex will create and 2. how can the taxpayers be assured that the money for the complex, including its yearly maintenance, won't eventually come from the county's already diminishing beach renourishment funds?

"Bringing in more people will generate more traffic and (the TDC) hasn't identified how they're going to address that," he said, "and if the tourism tax increase isn't enough to pay off the bonds, then that money is going to have to come from someplace else, like the beach renourishment fund. I was trying to protect the taxpayers and the beaches."

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