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Beach carnival dividing Treasure Island


Published:   |   Updated: July 16, 2013 at 10:01 AM

TREASURE ISLAND - For many residents and local businesses here, last spring's beach carnival was a great success.

More than 12,000 people came out to beach over four days in March, enjoying live music, a Ferris wheel and other rides and then trickling into the city's shops and restaurants along Gulf Boulevard.

Guests at the hotels located directly behind the festivities had less fun, though.

"Imagine yourself on your ski trip, you get there, you open the door to your chalet, and there's trucks and port-o-lets and all of that blocking the view of your mountain," said Bilmar Beach Resort owner Clyde Smith at a recent Treasure Island City Commission meeting.

"It's the same thing for these guests that save years to come down here and walk out and see a small village with the rides and all behind their hotel," said Smith, who is also chair of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce.

Tuesday, the City Commission will vote on whether to permit the Gulf Beaches Rotary Club from staging its Greatest Show on Surf carnival on the beach next April.

It's one of a dozen events that now happen on this barrier island each year; some hoteliers say that's too many.

Carnivals, sand sculpture contests, concerts and craft shows have become popular in beach towns up and down Pinellas County's coastline - a draw for both locals and tourists.

Shop owners in Madeira Beach look forward to a bump in business from events such as the Fourth of July concert in Archibald Park, monthly street fairs on Madeira Way and major boating events, such as the Old Salt Fishing Foundation's biannual fishing tournament.

Frenchy's Sugar Sand Festival, a 10-day sand sculpting event each April in Clearwater Beach, is a consistent draw for tourists.

In fact, Treasure Island has gained notoriety for its own sand sculpting competition, Sanding Ovations, which Smith said doubles his occupancy at the Bilmar.

That's in November, though.

The rub for the hoteliers whose beachfront balconies overlook the bright lights of the carnival rides is that they're already running at full occupancy in the spring, and big events such as the Rotary carnival don't bring in more business.

The carnival's organizers and many local businesses paint a different picture.

"Anything that gets people on that beach gets me business, and if there's an event on the beach, there's even more people here," said Troy Carter, who runs the Candy Kitchen shop, located directly across Gulf Boulevard from where the carnival is held.

Carter serves on the executive committee of the Treasure Island Chamber of Commerce, which supports bringing back the carnival next year.

The chamber surveyed its 250 members after this year's carnival, which ran from March 14 to 17, and got back 66 replies; 52 were positive, seven businesses abstained from the vote, and seven opposed the carnival.

Hoteliers whose properties don't front the event have even endorsed it.

Phyllis McMillan, who manages the Treasure Bay Hotel & Marina across the street from the beach, told commissioners it was "self-serving" to only host events that benefit hotels instead of the broader community.

The Rotary Club has agreed to make changes intended to minimize the carnival's negative impact to hotels.

The club plans to move many of the rides south to Gulf Front Park, turn the music stages toward the water - and away from guests' rooms - to reduce noise, and look for alternative parking rather than bringing hundreds of cars onto the beach.

City Commissioner Tim Ramsberger told the hoteliers and the carnival's organizers he's no stranger to popular events that cause disruption.

The Honda Grand Prix, which he manages, draws masses of people and media attention to downtown St. Petersburg but shuts down streets that front big attractions, including The Dali museum.

He's counseling carnival organizers to work with city staff and hoteliers to find ways to market their businesses during the offseason to make up for whatever losses they might incur.

"If we're going to have these things, we do need to work together to find ways in helping those businesses on the beach," he said.

The Bilmar lost about $20,000 in revenue during this year's carnival, Smith said. A bride cancelled her beach wedding and demanded $10,000 back.

Arthur Czyszczon, who runs the Page Terrace Motel, told commissioners some of his guests said they'd never come back.

Some of the affected hoteliers have threatened to sue the city if the event continues to drain their business, Treasure Island Vice Mayor Alan Bildz said.

Even still, Bildz said he thinks a majority of the commission will support next year's carnival, but he won't.

"It's timing. In March, that's our season, so why would add something else that's going to chase people away?" he said.

Smith wants the city to set events like this on the same calendar date each year in the future, so he can market it in advance to guests who might be interested. He's hopeful the changes made by the Rotary Club will make next year's carnival more positive for hotels.

"I really think they're going to make it much better than last year for us," he said.

jboatwright@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-1277

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