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TDC Meeting Minutes
May 11, 2023

Rob Wells, Vice-chair, called the Lee County Tourist Development Council meeting to order at 9:00 a.m.

Council members in attendance

  • Dan Allers, Darla Bonk, Pamela Cronin, Larry Fiesel, Bill Steinke, Jay Johnson, Robert Wells III, Tony Lapi, Holly Smith, Bill Waichulis and Nigel Fullick.
  • Commissioner Brian Hamman, Brian Kramer, and Fran Myers were excused.
  • Holly Smith made a motion to approve the Apr. 13, 2023, meeting minutes. Jay Johnson seconded the motion which passed unanimously.

Public to be heard

  • Lisa Wilson, Edison Ford Winter Estates (EFWE), Marketing & PR Manager, shared that they are recovering well from Hurricane Ian, and they opened a new exhibit sponsored by the Connie Mack family. The Connie Mack family partnered with the Estates and loaned them numerous artifacts for five years which are currently on display. Wilson shared that they are working with the Vintage Baseball Association to bring its National Convention to EFWE next spring. Also, Wilson mentioned that their visitation is down and thanked the TDC for their continued support over the years and going forward.
  • Matt Johnson, IMAG, Executive Director, mentioned they have had a wonderful spring that resulted in their best March and April on record. With the beaches recovering visitors have been looking for activities to do and IMAG saw a huge influx of visitors with large groups from Charlotte and Collier County. Johnson thanked the TDC for their attractions marketing grants and their continued support.
  • Lydia Black, active, engaged citizen thanked the TDC for their support of the art and culture programs within Lee County. Black encouraged the TDC to continue to support recommendations for increased funding for arts and cultural organizations because they are an important part in the community.

Municipalities to be heard

  • Sharon Woodbury, City of Cape Coral, Business Development officer, shared some exciting projects and events planned for Cape Coral. The Hadley, a 444-unit multifamily development by the Latigo Group, is expected to be completed in 2024 with amenities such as a fitness center, wellness area, and more. Achieva Credit Union is opening a new branch on Pine Island Rd. Victory Park, a 140-acre master planned development that’s designed to promote walkability, biking, and public transport. City Mattress is under construction in the 13-acre retail development Cape Coral Commons. Assistance grants up to $50,000 for small businesses within Cape Coral provided by the City of Cape Coral Economic Development office. The Cape Coral Cleanup event had over 1,000 residents participate, and it was aired on MSNBC and the Weather Channel. Cultural Park opened April 22 and hosted Culture Fest. Sun Trail Ribbon Cutting will occur May 12, Brew Fest at Cultural Park will occur May 20, and the Hurricane Preparedness Expo will occur May 31 at Mercola Market. Also, Woodbury provided a Cape Coral Quest update: 2,798 people signed up, 3,817 locations checked, 34 Sunsplash Season Passes were awarded, and 74 people added to the Westin Stay Contest.

Report of the executive director
Tamara Pigott, Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau executive director, reported the preliminary resort tax collected for March 2023 was $5,728,042, a 47.8% decrease over March 2022 preliminary collections of $10,974,040. Fiscal year-to-date preliminary tourist tax collections are $22,199,122 a decrease of 44.2% year-over-year.

Pigott also reported that the average hotel occupancy rate for March 2023 was 80.2%, which is down 6% from March 2022. The average daily rate for March 2023 was $247, down 15.4% from March 2022 and RevPAR for March 2023 was $198, down 20.5% from March 2022.

For vacation rentals, the average occupancy rate for March 2023 was 44%, which is down 50.5% from March 2022. The average daily rate for March 2023 was $267, down 24.3% from March 2022 and RevPAR for March 2023 was $116, down 62.5% from March 2022.

During March 2023, 1,166,442 passengers traveled through Southwest Florida International Airport, a decrease of 23.0% compared to March 2022.

January – March research report
Joseph St. Germain, with Downs & St. Germain Research, offered a tourism snapshot of January through March 2023. Due to Hurricane Ian, when compared to the same period in 2022, tourism metrics were down across the board. Visitation decreased by 34.6%, room nights decreased by 30.6% and direct visitor expenditures decreased 31.4% to $968 million. He reported that 93% of visitors came from the U.S. while 4.6% came from Canada, and 2.8% from other international markets. Visitors spent an average of 8.3 nights while visiting, and 25% reported being first-time visitors.

New Business
Tony Lapi made a motion and approved the FY23 2nd quarter budget reports. Holly Smith seconded the motion which passed unanimously.

TDC approves funding for beach & shoreline projects
Holly Smith made a motion to approve funding recommendations Beach & Shoreline FY24 Projects, allocating $11,130,968 for 17 Beach & Shoreline projects throughout Lee County. Bill Waichulis seconded the motion which passed unanimously. These projects will be considered for final approval by the Board of County Commissioners as part of the FY2023-24 budget.

Legislative findings:

  • B-City of Sanibel-Beach & Shoreline Erosion Monitoring-Motion was made by Jay Johnson, seconded by Darla Bonk, which carried unanimously.
  • C-Captiva Erosion Prevention District-Captiva Beach Park Maintenance-Motion was made by Holly Smith, seconded by Jay Johnson, which carried unanimously.
  • E-Town of Fort Myers Beach-Beach & Shoreline Maintenance-Motion was made by Bill Waichulis, seconded by Pam Cronin, which carried unanimously.
  • F-City of Sanibel-Beach Park Operations and Maintenance-Motion was made by Jay Johnson, seconded by Darla Bonk, which carried unanimously.
  • G-Barrier Island Parks Society-Gasparilla Island Walking Trails Maintenance-Motion was made by Pam Cronin, seconded by Jay Johnson, which carried unanimously.
  • H-Barrier Island Parks Society-Cayo Costa Island Maintenance-Amended Motion was made by Bill Waichulis, seconded by Holly Smith that if TDC makes a legislative finding that the boat is found to primarily serve the purpose of “beach improvement, maintenance, renourishment, restoration or erosion control,” on a barrier island accessible only by boat, and the park is open to the public, tourist development tax revenues may be used for the purchase. The motion carried unanimously.
  • K-Lee County Facilities Construction Mgmt.-Beach Front Park Maintenance-Motion was made by Holly Smith, seconded by Jay Johnson, which carried unanimously.
  • N-Town of Fort Myers Beach-Public Beach Access Boardwalk Replacements-Motion was made by Pam Cronin, seconded by Holly Smith, which carried unanimously.
  • O-Town of Fort Myers Beach-Newton Beach Park Shade Structure Replacement-Motion was made by Jay Johnson, seconded by Darla Bonk, which carried unanimously.
  • S-“DING” Darling Wildlife Society-Perry Tract Interpretive Kiosk-Motion was made by Jay Johnson, seconded by Holly Smith, which carried unanimously.
  • T-Lee County Transit-Fort Myers Beach Tram Service-Motion was made by Holly Smith, seconded by Bill Waichulis, which carried unanimously.
  • Pam Cronin made a motion to approve the guideline changes to the attractions marketing program. The updated guidelines increase the maximum funding request to $25,000 for organizations with annual attendance averaging less than 100,000 visitors, and $50,000 for organizations with annual attendance averaging more than 100,000 visitors. Tony Lapi seconded the motion with two opposed were Bill Waichulis and Holly Smith. The motion passed with a 5-2 vote in favor of the motion.

TDC member items
• Pam Cronin had no comment.
• Darla Bonk had no comment.
• Jay Johnson had no comment.
• Holly Smith shared that they had 5,000 people in attendance for Island Night at the Twins stadium which was the best one ever. All the beaches on Sanibel are open except for Lighthouse beach which is still under repair. Smith mentioned that they will be looking to the VCB to share with people that Sanibel and Captiva are open for business. Currently, there are 74 out of 564 businesses open on the islands. Smith shared that she attended the Edison Awards in April, and 23 countries were represented for their innovation, and she encouraged people to support the Edison Awards.
• Bill Waichulis shared that hotels and condos are seeing a 250% increase in insurance costs and insurance in Florida is a problem. Hotels can only survive by passing along those costs to the customer which will result in the rates increasing. Waichulis encouraged the TDC to share the insurance issue with their legislatures to fix the problem. The Octopool at the Pink Shell will be filled with water on Wednesday.
• Nigel Fullick shared they had over 4,000 attendees for the City of Bonita Springs 24th birthday. Also, the Bonita Springs Center for the Arts hired a new executive director Alyona Ushe. Fullick shared they will have their annual Memorial Day services at Riverside Park in Bonita Springs.
• Dan Allers shared this Saturday they are having a pre–Mother’s Day 5K on Fort Myers Beach with donations going towards 501c3 for residents in the 33931-zip code.
• Bill Steinke shared that national companies are recognizing that Cape Coral is thriving. Steinke mentioned that a new restaurant Sage on 47th just opened and encouraged people to try it out.
• Larry Fiesel mentioned that Estero currently isn’t too busy but expect it to become busier this Fall.
• Tony Lapi shared that 40 years ago, they opened Crow’s Nest. This coming Monday, The Shipyard will open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, 7 days a week where the Crow’s Nest used to be. The new Crow’s Nest will be on the 2nd story overlooking the Gulf of Mexico and a high-end steakhouse and will open in June.

The meeting adjourned at 10:43 a.m.

Next TDC meeting
The next regularly scheduled TDC meeting will be held at 9 a.m. Thursday, June 8, 2023, at the Lee County Admin East Building, Room 118, 2201 Second St., Fort Myers. To view a complete tax collections report, go to Contact: Tamara Pigott,, Lee County VCB, 239-338-3500.

A man and a woman enjoy lunch on a canal in Cape Coral as a boat drives by
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