Brevard County Commissioners have begun what could become a major shakeup in the membership of the Tourism Development Council.
That’s the panel that advises commissioners on tourism-related matters, including how to spend the Space Coast Tourism Office’s budget.
County commissioners voted 3-1 this week in favor of Vice President Curt Smith’s request to replace TDC appointee Julie Braga, general manager of the Residence Inn by Marriott in Melbourne. Smith is putting Donald DeDonatis III, executive director of the US Special Sports Association in Viera, on the nine-member panel in place of Braga, effective immediately.
One and possibly two other commissioners may also remove their TDC appointees in the coming weeks.
And, in what would be a drastic change in the composition of the TDC, several commissioners are interested in asking the Florida Legislature to change the state requirements for tourism boards so that panels do not have to have a number. specific to hotel officials or other collectors of the tourism promotion tax as members.
Change membership:County Commissioners Pritchett, Smith Replace Tourist Development Board Appointees
Driftwood Hotel Grant:Brevard County Commission Approves $30 Million Marketing Grant for Cocoa Beach Westin Hotel Project
Currently, Florida statute requires that three or four members of the TDC be collectors of the tax, which in Brevard County is a 5% charge added to the price of hotel rooms and other short-term rentals, such as rentals. vacation rentals and lodging in RV parks. . The Brevard County Code sets that requirement at three members.
The council’s apparent shakeup follows a dispute between county commissioners and TDC members over the commission’s decision to award Driftwood Capital a $30 million grant to help market the Westin Cocoa Beach Resort & Spa it is building. at State Road A1A.
A majority of TDC members opposed subsidizing Driftwood of up to $1 million a year for 30 years, saying it is unfair to others in the hospitality industry and would hurt the county’s overall tourism marketing program.
County commissioners, however, say the moves to change TDC membership have nothing to do with TDC members’ opposition to their Driftwood decision.
While Smith said he didn’t care about Braga’s comments during a recent TDC meeting, in which he said there was “shock and amazement” in the community in reaction to the County Commission’s 3-1 vote in support of the Driftwood grant, was quick to add that her comments played no role in his decision to remove her from the advisory board. Braga also chaired the TDC’s Beach Committee.
Smith said he wanted someone involved in a tourism-related business in his County Commission District 4 on the board. DeDonatis fit the bill, as the USSSA youth and adult baseball and softball events at the USSSA Space Coast complex draw a lot of business to local hotels, restaurants and attractions.
County Commissioner Rita Pritchett also wants to replace her appointee, TDC Chairman Tom Hermansen, a hotel owner in the Cocoa Beach/Cape Canaveral area and current TDC Chairman.
Pritchett had planned to nominate Therrin Protze, director of operations for the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. The Visitors Complex is located in Pritchett County Commission District 1 and is considered the most popular paid tourist attraction in Brevard County.
But Pritchett’s move was hampered by county rules that require three tourist development tax collectors to be on the TDC, as she would replace one of the three remaining TDC members in that category.
The Courtyard by Marriott Titusville-Kennedy Space Center hotel is operated by Delaware North. But because Protze isn’t directly involved in the hotel, he wouldn’t qualify to meet the three-person quota.
So Pritchett said he plans to hire a manager from that hotel to replace Hermansen, who has also criticized the County Commission’s vote on the Driftwood grant.
“This is not personal,” said Pritchett, who is the County Commission’s representative on the TDC. “This is about getting a voice for North Brevard on the (TDC) board of directors, and I’m going to work hard for that,” as well as working toward greater geographic diversity in the TDC and distributing tourist aid throughout the county .
Tobia voted against Smith’s proposal to remove Braga from the TDC in the middle of his term, saying that Braga is “a hard-working person who has done a good job, in every way, at the TDC.”
He also previously voted against the marketing grant to Driftwood.
DeDonatis’ company, USSSA, has contracts with Brevard County related to the leasing of the stadium complex and the reimbursement of tourist development tax revenue for stadium maintenance.
Following the advice of the county attorney’s office, DeDonatis signed a conflict of interest waiver that would allow him to serve on the TDC, even with those potential conflicts.
But acting county attorney Christine Schverak later decided that DeDonatis didn’t have to sign the waiver after all, unless there was a new contract or contract modification between the county and USSSA.
Such a resignation would have required the approval of the four acting county commissioners, and Tobia said he would not have voted for it, thereby blocking the appointment.
But DeDonatis’ appointment to the TDC, without a vote on resignation, required the approval of three of the four commissioners.
Smith said “TDC benefits tremendously” from DeDonatis’ company being in Brevard County, “so I thought he would be a great asset. And that’s why I named him.”
More flexible membership
County commissioners unanimously approved Tuesday for commission chairwoman Kristine Zonka to send a letter to the Brevard County delegation to the Florida Legislature, requesting greater flexibility in the makeup of TDC members so that fewer of three tax collectors, usually hotel owners or managers — needs to be on the advisory board.
“The board, by its (current) design, is a big conflict. If you have a board full of hoteliers, good or not, they are going to make decisions for their own special interests,” Zonka said during the commission’s discussion of the issue. .
“So I think maybe the Legislature will loosen up, by coming up with some changes to the state charter, that would allow for a broader acceptance of members who would qualify,” Zonka added.
Zonka and Pritchett have indicated that some TDC members seem too focused on the interests of the Cocoa Beach/Cape Canaveral tourism corridor at the expense of other parts of the county.
“We can talk about bikinis and beaches,” Zonka told the other commissioners on Tuesday. “But honestly, I didn’t see anyone running here to come to the beach to see a bunch of girls in bikinis. They were coming here to see Artemis.”
Zonka said he will keep his options open on what to do regarding his appointment to the TDC, depending on what is needed to meet state and county requirements related to the number of tourist tax collectors and non-collectors in the TDC.
Giles Malone, a partner in the Space Coast Daily media company as well as a partner in a sports and event management business, is one of Zonka’s current appointees to the TDC. His term expires at the end of this year. Malone, who chairs the TDC’s Capital Facilities Committee, is also counted as a tourist tax collector through his sporting events business.
Another person named by Zonka is Christy Galzerano, general manager of the Doubletree/Hilton Garden Inn Oceanfront Hotel in Cocoa Beach.
Tobia has said he would not change his appointee, Brevard Zoo Executive Director Keith Winsten, who chairs the TDC’s Marketing Committee.
The current collectors of the TDC tax are Galzerano, Hermansen and Malone.
The current non-collectors of the tax who are involved in the tourism industry are DeDonatis, Winsten and Larry Jarnes, appointed by former county commissioner Bryan Lober, who resigned from the commission on April 1. Jarnes is president and CEO of Northboro. Builders, which develops commercial properties, and chairs the TDC’s Sports Committee.
The other three slots on the TDC are for a county commissioner (Pritchett), an elected official from Brevard’s most populous city (Palm Bay Mayor Rob Medina), and an elected official from another Brevard municipality (Vice Mayor of West Melbourne, Andrea Young, who also chairs the Cultural Committee of the TDC).
In addition to Zonka writing the legislature, the county commissioners also unanimously agreed to a request by Tobia to schedule a public hearing on how to align the Brevard County Code with Florida Statutes related to TDC membership requirements.
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