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Charlotte County Commissioners lauded the staff of the Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach Visitor & Convention Bureau while looking for new ways to fund one of its two main eventsEnglewood Beach Waterfest, which takes place Nov. 15-17 this year. 

To help launch the event in prior years, the county gave in-kind funding of $50,000, thinking that eventually it would be self-sustaining. 

But Jay Henderson, representing the all-volunteer group that runs the event off Englewood Beach, told commissioners May 14 that it probably won’t be able to be self-sustaining, as the event lost money during the pandemic when it opened Waterfest up to the public free of an admission charge. 

Waterfest also received funding from a Boater Revolving Fund Grant, established by the Board of County Commissioners to provide funding for projects that improve boater experience and benefit the community. 

But the Marine Advisory Committee, an all-volunteer group of some two-dozen people, advised the board that funding should not come from that grant. 

Henderson said Waterfest was awarded Southeast Tourism Society’s Signature Event of the Year for 2023, and said it was important for Charlotte County to support it. 

Commissioners unanimously agreed that Waterfest, which draws between 30,000 and 40,000 spectators each year, is a vital event to the county’s tourism economy. 

“It’s an amazing event,” Commissioner Stephen R. Deutsch said. 

He said Waterfest and the Florida International Air Show are the county’s two signature events. 

However, commissioners discussed the funding mechanism for Waterfest and decided the funding should come from the tourism bureau, headed by Sean Doherty. 

Henderson said that to run Waterfest another $44,000 is needed in addition $50,000 in-kind funding. 

Commissioner Christopher Constance noted that the cost of the event has doubled in the last year, and Henderson explained that it was due to rising costs of services and supplies. 

“We need to get the Waterfest folks some television sponsorship; that’s really where they’re going to be able to fund this thing,” Constance said. 

He said if CBS or ESPN picked up the sponsorship, Waterfest will have the funding ability “without outside dollars.” 

Doherty agreed his department will be able to lend a hand, as its revenues have been increasing. 

Constance said the tourism receipts in January were 14% higher than last year, February showed a 40% increase over the prior year and March receipts were up 20%. 

“We’ve made two-thirds of our tourism budget in half a year, Constance said. 

Doherty, who earlier was presented with a proclamation from the commissioners for National Travel and Tourism Week, said Sunseeker, which has 785 rooms that provide a bed tax for each room night, has been a contributing factor for the increases. 

Last year, 986,100 visitors came to Charlotte County in fiscal year 2023. It is an important source of funds for the county’s economy. 

Charlotte County tourism in 2023 directly supported 12,900 jobs, which generated $333.3 million in wages and salaries.  

An additional county job is supported by every 76 visitors. 

Tourism generated $7.5 million in tax revenues, and visitors to the county saved local residents, on average, $1,026 per household in taxes in 2023. 

Tourism provided $723 million in direct expenditures and had a $1.06 billion impact, according to figures in the proclamation. 

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