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Changes to tourist board could affect Cape

By Staff | Feb 14, 2012

The make-up of the Tourist Development Council could change if a bill currently in the state senate passes.

And it could take a seat away from Cape Coral.

Currently, the TDC has a board which includes a commissioner, a member from the largest municipality (Cape Coral) and a third member that rotates yearly between Sanibel, Fort Myers Beach, Fort Myers and Bonita Springs, along with six others in the tourism business.

But if the amendment by Sen. Garrett Richter (R-Naples) to Senate Bill No. 1274 passes, it could bring in two new members, one determined by the bed tax dollars they bring in, with the other being someone from the tourist industry.

It could also simply leave the membership at nine and make Cape Coral give its seat to the municipality bringing in the most bed tax dollars, Sanibel.

TDC chairman John Manning said he is considering both options that he and Richter discussed last week in Tallahassee.

“We could keep the membership at nine and resort to Cape Coral rotating in and out every two years (which Bonita, Sanibel, Fort Myers and Fort Myers Beach already do) and bring in the highest bed tax earned,” Manning said.

Manning also said they could add two seats to the board, which would add the top tax earner and another tourism official, allowing Cape Coral to keep its seat.

“We’re in the development stages with the language,” Manning said. “We can’t put the wagon before the horse.”

Not everybody thinks this is a god idea.

“It’s supposed to be a business-driven board and the tax was to be business driven,” said Tamara Pigott, executive director of the Lee County Visitors & Convention Bureau. “To tip the balance to the biggest collectors may not be the best thing.”

One of the problems facing Cape Coral is its lack of tourist amenities like hotels. The city makes much of its bed tax dollars in other ways, Pigott said.

“Bed tax dollars aren’t just from hotels. Rentals pay taxes, and Cape gets a high rental season from Germany and Canada,” Pigott said.

Councilman Lenny Nesta, the Cape Coral representative on the board, said he has only been on the board since November and is still trying to get up to speed with everything.

“The state feels there are high contributors to the bed tax that don’t have a voting person,” Nesta said. “The bill they’re trying to pass through would add seats. I’m a new guy and still learning.”

The TDC held a meeting Thursday to discuss that subject, but because it was originally set for Friday and moved, Nesta was unable to attend.

According to Richter’s amendment, any county with six or fewer municipalities and less than 600,000 people would only be subject to the ruling.

That makes Pigott believe the amendment was with Lee County in mind.

“The interpretation limits it to Lee County. But it’s early in the conversation. Amendments don’t always get approved,” Pigott said.

Nesta said on Wednesday, Manning and County Manager Karen Hawes met with Richter in Tallahassee and they agreed to give everyone a bit more time to explore the TDC expansion idea.

Calls to Richter’s office for comment were not returned.