Local leaders to Crist: oil misconceptions are killing us

07/13/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Governor Charlie Crist heard from local officials in St. Petersburg today on their concerns about the oil disaster. Their biggest fear is widespread misconception that Tampa Bay’s Beaches are covered in crude.

Frank Chavis, founder of Bay Star Restaurant Group, based in Indian Rocks Beach, had a suggestion for the governor.

"I want you to get Anderson Cooper on St. Pete Beach or Clearwater Beach. I'm sure there are some hotels out there. Get him out there for a week and let him tell them that our beaches are clean."

The national media’s portrayal of the Sunshine State as an oil-saturated wasteland seemed to permeate the discussion. Bob Clifford, President and CEO of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, said hotels in his area have seen a drastic reduction in occupancy because of the disaster.

"We've already lost the summer European Market. We're already down 65%-70%. Europeans will not travel here because of the risk involved."

Sarasota Mayor Kelly Kirschner said that city is faring slightly better. Still, he said, two recent polls show that shortly after the gusher started not many people were concerned, but now that number is high.

"It changed from 35% said it was having a serious impact on whether or not it would come to the west coast of Florida. we've already seen the impact. We've documented at least 700 reservations of rooms nights have been canceled as a result.

State Rep. Leonard Bembry said tax revenues of all kinds are also likely to drop.

"Every taxing authority, in Florida, is going to feel the pressure from that. First of all, we're down in sales tax revenues as a cost of that, we'll be down in bed taxes for counties. Also in autumn of next year, the law will be affected."

State Sen. Mike Fasano, who supports a constitutional amendment banning oil drilling in Florida’s waters, said given the fact that tourism pulls $65 million annually into Florida’s economy, the impetus needs to be on the national press to show that most of the state has no oil.

"We need to start challenging our national media. I hear from people all over the United States and I've had a friend who's over in Europe, and all they heard and saw was that Florida was just overwhelmed with oil along all of its beaches, when we know that's absolutely not true."

Gov. Crist said the state doesn’t have the budget to do this on its own since BP turned down his request for additional advertising dollars.

"I asked them for 50 million dollars more, last week. They rejected it yesterday. Now, to say I'm disappointed would be an understatement, but we're going to try again."

Meanwhile, Crist has called a special legislative session to discuss putting a constitutional amendment that would ban drilling in state waters on the November ballot.

"I think it's very important, at a minimum, to give the people of this state the opportunity to vote on this important issue, of whether or not they wan tot have drilling off the coast of our sunshine state. My belief is that they probably do not, the people don't. But I think we ought to at least allow them, the voters, to have the opportunity to weigh in on this very important issue."

Supporters of such a measure are concerned that Republican lawmakers may try to block the proposed amendment.

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my wife and i visit the clearwater beach area and gainesville at least three times a year.i told my wife a couple of months ago that florida was making a big mistake by not running commercials and ads saying that florida was open for business and that the beaches were clear of oil.and i'm not complaining,mind you,but the fact that we are coming to clearwater in sept.and we got our regular hotel room for about 55% off the regular price,i think speaks volumes for how much the state is hurting for tourists.