|By Sara Kennedy, The Bradenton Herald,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 13, 2012--MANATEE -- Two local companies whose sports programs attract thousands of visitors now occasionally coordinate their largest events to ensure there is enough hotel inventory to handle the crowds.
The two big businesses, Bradenton's IMG Academies and Lakewood Ranch's Premier Sports Campus, draw so many people that providing enough nearby hotel rooms can be a problem, said John Osborne, a Manatee County planning and zoning official.
"It's a good problem to have," he said after discussing the matter Thursday with the Manatee County Planning Commission.
One solution is to attract more hotel developers, and Osborne hopes a new area of the county website -- featuring an online hotel development database accompanied by a color map -- will do the trick.
An unpaid intern, Mark Groom, contributed computer skills to the project.
"They teach GIS in high school now," Osborne added, with an I-am-too-old eye-roll. "He's looking for a part-time job."
The project displays Groom's work with computerized geographic information systems, combining cartography, statistical analysis, and database technology. He is continuing to add features to it, Osborne said.
Its goal is to aid county economic development and tourism efforts as well as potential hotel developers about locations where hotel entitlements currently exist, and to illustrate what sites lend themselves to hotel development, Osborne wrote in an explanatory email.
The map shows a "first tier" of properties, pinpointing land in unincorporated parts of Manatee County already zoned for hotel development.
"Many larger properties have entitlements for hotels, such as: Creekwood (100 rooms), Lakewood Ranch (705 rooms), Heritage Harbor (300 rooms), River Club Park of Commerce (270 rooms), Tara (81 rooms) and the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport (292 rooms)," an e-mail said.
The map also shows "second tier" sites, where the developer would likely have to do a general development plan, and would have to have public
hearings, Osborne said.
"Third tier" sites represent those located in a commercial node, that would likely require rezoning and site plan approval -- extra steps on the part of the developer to bring a project to fruition, Osborne said.
Hotel developers already are warming to the area.
A $15 million renovation of Bradenton's historic former Manatee River Hotel, better known as the "Pink Palace," is slated to start Sept. 1, officials announced last week.
Manatee and Sarasota counties are quickly becoming global players in the sports performance industry, said Nick Azzara, the county information outreach coordinator.
In the rowing arena alone, the numbers of teams training here nearly doubled over the past year, he noted.
"When marquee organizations like Harvard or Georgetown and the Canadian national rowing team are starting to use your facilities to train, word is quickly going to spread around the world," he said.
"We're going to need places for those athletes, their coaches, their trainers, their families and their fans to stay," he said.
The new "hotel development" area of the county website will give prospective hoteliers and temporary lodging providers the background information their companies can use to determine when and where they can capitalize on and accommodate that influx of people, Azzara said.
The next phase of the project will include data on specific hotels, listing numbers of rooms, flagged vs. non-flagged hotels, available meeting space and other detailed information, Osborne said.
Manatee's database is modeled on one developed by Canin Associates, a private Orlando urban planning and landscape architectural firm.
For many years, the Orlando firm has produced a database showing local developments as well as an inventory of hotels and motels, said Eliza Harris, a senior associate with Canin Associates.
The firm has found such integrated information makes it easier for the private sector to do what a city or county wants to encourage, and to "make investments in places that make sense," she said.
Manatee's hotel database and map can be found on the Internet at
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031.
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