Sports tourism saw 20% growth in economic impact from FY15 to FY16
Tourists’ attendance at arts and cultural programs continues to climb, Jim Shirley, executive director of the Arts & Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County, reported to the county’s Tourist Development Council last week.
For the 2016 fiscal year, he said, a total of 1,800,353 visitors attended performances or exhibitions funded by Tourist Development Tax (TDT) revenue that goes to county arts and cultural organizations in the form of grants. For the 2015 fiscal year, the figure was 1,683,903. The year-over-year change represented “a significant increase,” he pointed out, though he clarified that one visitor may be counted at multiple venues.
During the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, he told the council members, $1,803,000 in TDT revenue ended up being awarded to 33 organizations. One grant recipient had to turn down an award, he noted.
The statistics the Alliance had gathered, he continued, showed that 59% of the people who attended the performances or exhibitions were from outside Sarasota County; that was up from 57% in FY 2015.
The latest figures show that 71,750 — 4% — of the attendees came from beyond the United States’ borders in the 2016 fiscal year, up from 58,734 in FY 2015. Out-of-state residents accounted for 30% of the attendees, or 540,692, according to a slide Shirley showed the council members on Nov. 17. Another 25 percent of those counted at performances or exhibitions were Florida residents, he said. The latter number was down from 27% in FY 2015.
“The arts are certainly one of the main reasons that people do visit Sarasota County,” he noted.
“Spectacular performances” offered by so many of the community’s arts and cultural organizations are the main reason attendance was up year-over-year, Shirley pointed out. And not only have some of the groups made themselves well known in the community, he continued, but they also are gaining recognition across the United States and the world.
Among those Shirley singled out were Sarasota Ballet, Selby Gardens, the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, the Circus Arts Conservatory, Sarasota Opera and Venice Theatre.
The opera continues to be a major attraction, he said, and “the fantastic work that they are doing down [in Venice]” has raised the profile of Venice Theatre.
Shirley also pointed out that the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe (WBTT) recently announced a $6-million capital campaign to enable it to renovate its Orange Avenue campus in Sarasota.
A WBTT news release explains that the plan is to transform the organization’s 2.5-acre, two-building home at the intersection of 10th Street and Orange Avenue “into a cohesive, state-of-the-art performing arts center,” which will “enable the organization to more fully develop its education program, and create an endowment fund for the future of the troupe.” The goal is to make improvements to both the current theatre structure and the historic Binz Building, which will become the headquarters for WBTT’s administrative offices and education outreach programs, the release notes.
“Already $2.7 million has been raised in support of the campaign,” the release adds. “Area philanthropist Gerri Aaron has provided a leadership gift of $1 million to spearhead the fundraising effort and will be naming the theatre building,” it says.
In 2013, the WBTT purchased the site where its existing theater and the Binz Building stand and then paid off the mortgage the very next year.
Shirley also told the TDC members that he believes Selby Gardens’ upcoming exhibit of works by renowned 20th century artist Marc Chagall will be another major event for arts and cultural organizations in the current fiscal year. The Chagall show — opening Feb. 12, 2017 and ending on July 31, 2017 — will incorporate “key works” the artist created in France that feature botanical imagery, a Selby Gardens news release says.
As part of that show, the release continues, horticultural displays “will offer a view of the French Riviera environment that inspired the artist.” The release notes, “The Tropical Conservatory will feature a changing exhibit of the flora of St. Paul de Vence, the picturesque village where Chagall spent the latter part of his life.”
During his presentation, Shirley told the TDC members that he had just come from a regional arts conference in St. Petersburg. “It clearly demonstrated the difference that we are very fortunate to see here in Sarasota County,” he noted.
Representatives from Tampa organizations talked about how they wished theirs could be like those in St. Petersburg, Shirley continued. “St. Pete says, ‘Someday, we are going to catch up with Sarasota.’” He added, “It was really good to hear [Sarasota’s reputation] reinforced.”
Sports tourism report
In regard to sports tourism, Rob Wells, director of sports for Visit Sarasota County, reported what he called “moderate growth” from the 2015 fiscal year to the FY 2016. The rise in economic impact on the county was $33,718,881.87, he told the TDC members; that represented an uptick of 20%.
However, the goal had been $60 million, a chart showed.
Wells did note a major increase in events from May to September, outside peak tourist season, year-over-year: from 26 to 38.
The biggest factor, he reported, was the higher number of training events and participants in rowing at Nathan Benderson Park. In the 2015 fiscal year from May to September, the park hosted 13 events; in FY16, the number was 18.
The FY15 total for rowing participants in the county during the five-month period was 8,628; in FY16, that rose to 10,155.
The most notable group, he pointed out, was the Cuban National Rowing Team, which trained at the park prior to its participation in the Summer Olympics in Rio.