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More Palm Beach County tourists? Local leaders seek ways to pull them in

More Palm Beach County tourists? Local leaders seek ways to pull them in

Palm Beach County and the cities within it are taking the next step to becoming a bustling hub for tourists with the adoption of a 20-year tourism plan and a donation to an upcoming premier South Florida spot.

County Commissioners voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve more than half-a-million dollars to expand tourism efforts across the county, which will be achieved through the creation of a master plan. The tourism industry currently provides about 90,000 jobs and $10 billion to the county’s economy, according to county documents.

The plan, which still needs to be developed fully, would provide a “roadmap for tourism growth,” which entails a variety of goals, including elevating the county as an “iconic destination” at state, national and even international levels. The plan would focus on landmarks, attractions and cultural institutions that incentivize people to visit, and could also emphasize festivals and nature-based recreation.

This could mean sites such as a new international raceway, as suggested by Palm Beach County Mayor Maria Sachs during Tuesday’s meeting. Emanuel Perry, the executive director of the county’s Tourist Development Council, said a study will be conducted to determine what infrastructure would be best suited to take the county “to
the next level.”

“We will leave no stone unturned, no path undone,” he said during the meeting. Conventions, Sports, Leisure International is a consulting firm working with the county on the plan. The firm’s previous experience in South Florida includes conducting research and analysis with Florida Atlantic University’s stadium, the Miami Beach Convention Center and the Miami Grand Prix.

Commissioner Marci Woodward said during the meeting while she is very excited about the plan, she wants to ensure current residents aren’t left behind in the process. She fears locals might “begin to hate tourism as an industry in this county.” “We want (tourists) to keep coming back year after year and shopping with us, eating in our restaurant, staying in our hotels, it’s a good industry…Just keeping in mind not to let (tourism) go too far too fast — people won’t be happy.”

Peter Ricci, the director of the Hospitality and Tourism Management Program at FAU, said that full-time residents may not understand the total economic benefit of tourism on an area, perhaps only seeing negatives such as congestion and crowds. He said full-time residents often benefit from living in a touristed area.

The number of visitors allows locals to pay less in a lot of ways, Ricci said. For example, Floridians can thank tourists for their lack of a state income tax, which is what draws so many people to live in the state in the first place.

Though the county’s tourism plan is currently rather broad, Ricci said plans such as these usually have a focus on a “cross agency-type festival or master event that will be a new draw to the region.”

The goal is to “come up with a strategy or an event that will lure new types of travelers to that destination,” Ricci said. “Palm Beach County has a long way to go. It can go much farther on expanding convention and conference business. We still have plenty of room for hotel growth. The destination is still rather young.”

The county will begin to work with CSL International to develop the tourism master plan this month and will have about two years to complete it.

Filling a county gap

The commission also approved an $865,000 county grant for Boca Raton’s Center for Arts and Innovation at Tuesday’s meeting. The facility is separate from the tourism master plan, but leaders see it as a additional tool in elevating Palm Beach County’s as an international travel destination.

The center “will anchor South County with an innovative, vital and flexible cultural campus that transcends function to enable creativity with no boundaries,” county documents said. If all fundraising is met, the center won’t open until around 2029. It proposes an array of uses, including artist studios, a multi-functional main venue, an outdoor piazza, work spaces and 360-degree panoramic space hoisted above the center allowing up to 100 people views of the entire city.

Woodward, who represents District 4, which includes Boca Raton, said the center, once completed, will fill a current gap between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. Andrea Virgin, the center’s chairperson and CEO, said up until this point, the project has been privately funded. The total cost of the project has yet to be made public.

“We’ve gotten a very long way, but the support of the governmental bodies that get involved really add credibility to the project and allow for that private sector support to continue to come in,” she said at Tuesday’s meeting.