To no one’s surprise, the second quarter’s lodging tax came in well ahead of last year’s pace, but it was not entirely due to the fact that the 2-cent tax on transient lodging had been raised in the interim.
That was the reason for a lot of it, as January’s Tourist Development Council numbers shot up by about 25 percent, February’s more than doubled, and March’s saw a 75 percent increase.
But even without that 50 percent boost in the tourist tax, from 2 to 3 percent, those three months would have been solid, as revenues saw more than $144,000 brought in in January, more than $182,000 in February and more than $260,000 in March. (See chart)
“We’ve been doing a lot of new strategies,” said TDC President John Solomon, noting that the county is targeting the Midwest and Southeast for vacationers, with Tennessee a top spot it draws from
“February and March have been families,” he said. “We still get the snowbird contingent but we’ve seen more families traveling. And we’ve seen more people from overseas, from Germany, Austria and France.”
Attracting overseas visitors is the task of VisitFlorida, and Solomon said soaring gas prices have not put a damper on vacationers. “We haven’t seen a negative effect as of yet,” Solomon said. “There’s nothing we can do about gas prices, and everybody in the country is in the same boat. We don’t control that.”
While it is not a major tourist attraction, one symbol of visitors’ enjoyment has been the addition of a “penny press” machine at the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce offices, which it shares with the Apalachicola’s visitors center.
The chamber got a good deal on the machine, which can sell for as much as $5,000 to $6,000 online, and placed it in the front window.
For a pair of quarters, and a complementary Lincoln head, folks can crank the handle and permanently flatten it into one of four designs: Eastpoint (Oyster tongs and shrimps); Apalachicola (the Chamber’s compass logo), St. George Island (the lighthouse) and the Florida Seafood Festival (King Retsyo).
Elongated coins are legal in the U.S. which otherwise prohibits “the mutilation, diminution and falsification of United States coinage.” This statute, however, does not prohibit the mutilation of coins if they are not used fraudulently with the intention of creating counterfeit coinage.
Money from increased TDC revenues has been spread around on local projects, including covering up to $50,000 for the city of Apalachicola to replace the dock at the end of the Lafayette Park pier.
The TDC has also agreed to fund, subject to county commission approval, up to $40,000 for the city of Carrabelle to put in a dune walkover at McKissack Beach. The TDC has also approved a dune beach walkover on at Third Street on St. George Island, not to exceed $35,000.
For its new museum grant program, the TDC has reimbursed the Camp Gordon Johnston Museum for $25,0000 for its parking lot and driveway, and to the Raney House $25,000 to replace the columns in the front of the building.
The TDC, which now is in charge of leasing out the Armory once all the work is complete, has also put in close to $400,000 to address the sprinkler system and interior repainting.