Brevard County commissioners plan to change tourism advisory board

Brevard County commissioners have begun what could turn into a major shake-up in the membership of the Tourism Development Board.

It is the panel that advises the Commissioners on matters related to tourism, including how to spend the budget of the Space Coast Office of Tourism.

County commissioners voted 3-1 this week in favor of Vice Chairman Curt Smith’s request to replace his TDC appointee, Julie Braga, general manager of the Residence Inn by Marriott in Melbourne. Smith places Donald DeDonatis III, general manager of the US Specialty Sports Association in Viera, on the nine-member panel in place of Braga, effective immediately.

One and possibly two other commissioners could also withdraw their TDC appointees in the coming weeks.

And – in what would be a dramatic change in the composition of the TDC – several commissioners want to ask the Florida legislature to change the state’s requirements for tourist offices, so that the signs do not have to have a specific number of hotel managers or other tourist development tax collectors as members.

Modification of membership:County Commissioners Pritchett and Smith replace Tourism Development Board appointees

Driftwood Hotel Grant:Brevard County Commission awards $30 million marketing grant to Cocoa Beach Westin hotel project

Currently, Florida statutes require three to four TDC members to be tax collectors, which in Brevard County is a 5% charge added to the price of hotel rooms and other short-term rentals. such as vacation rentals and RV park accommodations. . The Brevard County code sets this requirement at three members.

The apparent council shuffle follows a dispute between county commissioners and TDC members over a commission decision to award Driftwood Capital a $30 million grant to help market the Westin Cocoa Beach. Resort & Spa that he is building on the A1A national road.

Most TDC members opposed the grant to Driftwood of up to $1 million per year over 30 years, saying it was unfair to others in the hospitality industry and would hurt the county’s overall tourism marketing program. .

County commissioners, however, say the move to change TDC membership has nothing to do with TDC members’ opposition to their Driftwood decision.

While Smith said he didn’t care about Braga’s comments at a recent TDC meeting, where she said there was “shock and awe” in the community in reaction to the County Commission voted 3-1 in favor of the Driftwood grant, he was quick to add that his remarks played no role in his decision to remove her from the advisory board. Braga also chaired the beach committee of the TDC.

Smith said he wanted someone involved in a tourism-related business in his County Commission District 4 on the council. DeDonatis fit the bill, as USSSA youth and adult baseball and softball events at the USSSA Space Coast Resort bring plenty 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 appoint Therrin Protze as chief operating officer of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. The Visitor Complex is in Pritchett County Commission District 1 and is considered Brevard County’s most popular paid tourist attraction.

But Pritchett’s move was blocked by county rules that require three tourism development tax collectors to be on the TDC because 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 since Protze isn’t directly involved with the hotel, he wouldn’t qualify to meet the three-person quota.

So Pritchett said she plans to bring in a manager from that hotel instead to replace Hermansen, who also criticized the county commission’s vote on the Driftwood grant.

“It’s not personal,” said Pritchett, who is the County Commission representative at the TDC. “It’s about bringing North Brevard’s voice to the (TDC) Board of Directors, and I’m going to work hard to achieve that,” as well as working to achieve greater geographic diversity on the TDC and spreading the word. tourist aid throughout the county.

Tobia voted against Smith’s proposal to remove Braga from the TDC midway through his term, saying Braga is “a hardworking person who has done a good job, in every way, on the TDC”.

He also voted against the marketing grant given to Driftwood.

Potential conflicts

DeDonatis’ company, USSSA, has contracts with Brevard County to lease the stadium complex and refund tourism development tax revenue for stadium maintenance.

On the advice of the county attorney’s office, DeDonatis signed a conflict of interest waiver statement that would allow him to serve on the TDC, even with those potential conflicts.

But acting county attorney Christine Schverak later ruled that DeDonatis didn’t have to sign the waiver after all, unless there was a new contract or contract amendment between the county and the ‘USSSA.

Such a waiver would have required the approval of the four sitting county commissioners, and Tobia said he would not have voted for it, thus blocking the appointment.

But DeDonatis’ appointment to the TDC — without a vote on the waiver — required the approval of three of the four commissioners.

Smith said “TDC benefits greatly” from having the DeDonatis company in Brevard County, “so I just thought he would be a tremendous asset. And that’s why I named him.”

More flexible membership

On Tuesday, county commissioners unanimously approved that commission chairwoman Kristine Zonka send a letter to the Brevard County delegation to the Florida Legislature, asking for more flexibility in membership. of the TDC so that fewer than three tax collectors – usually hotel owners or managers – need be on the advisory board.

“The board, by its (current) design, is a big conflict. If you have a board full of hoteliers — nice or not — they’re going to make decisions for their own vested interests,” Zonka said during the discussion. of the committee on the problem.

“So I think maybe the legislature easing in, making changes to state law — that would allow for broader acceptance of members who would be eligible,” Zonka added.

Zonka and Pritchett said 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 fellow commissioners on Tuesday. “But, honestly, I haven’t seen anyone rushing here to come to the beach to see a group of girls in bikinis. They were coming here to see Artemis.”

Zonka said she will keep her options open on what to do in relation to her appointment to the TDC, depending on what is needed to meet state and county requirements for the number of tax collectors and non-collectors of the tourist tax on the TDC.

Giles Malone, a partner at media company Space Coast Daily, as well as a partner in an event and sports management firm, is one of Zonka’s current members at TDC. His term expires at the end of this year. Malone – who chairs the TDC’s capital facilities committee – is also considered a collector of tourist tax 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 said he would not change his appointee, Brevard Zoo executive director Keith Winsten, who chairs the TDC’s marketing committee.

The current TDC tax collectors are Galzerano, Hermansen and Malone.

Current non-collectors of the tax who are involved in the tourism industry are DeDonatis, Winsten and Larry Jarnes, an appointee of former county commissioner Bryan Lober, who resigned his commission seat on April 1. Jarnes is president and CEO of Northboro Builders, which develops commercial properties, and chairs the TDC sports committee.

The other three TDC slots are for a county commissioner (Pritchett), an elected official from the most populous city of Brevard (Mayor of Palm Bay Rob Medina), and an elected official from another Brevard municipality (Deputy Mayor of West Melbourne, Andrea Young, who also chairs the cultural committee of the TDC).

In addition to asking Zonka to write the legislature, county commissioners also unanimously agreed to a request by Tobia to schedule a public hearing to bring Brevard County’s code into line with related Florida statutes. the conditions of membership of the TDC.

Dave Berman is a business writer at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Berman at [email protected] Twitter: @bydaveberman.

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