Tourism leaders say Venice needs more hotels

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VENICE, Fla. - Sarasota County tourism officials say Venice needs more hotels close or near the beach. The news comes on the heels of a record visitor season, and the city's mayor says there are some options.

It's been a busy few months on area beaches, as we're told occupancy rates for hotels breaking all-time records. But while area tourism is doing well, the high occupancy also means the area is losing business.

"If you want to come down for a few days, there is really no place to stay." North Port resident Steve Surchik and visiting daughter Rose hope there will soon be more options.

"You would have more tourism, you would be able to come down and spend more time instead having to stay with family," says Rose Surchick.

That sentiment was backed up by tourism leaders with Visit Sarasota on Tuesday, as they told Venice city council members that more hotels are needed close to the beach. They tout a 6% increase in visitors, who are spending 10% more, with the highest local occupancy rates of all time.

"We've known that for a long time. We do need more hotels in the Venice area." Venice Mayor John Holic says there is one very big problem, which is evident as you look down the coastline. "We really have no waterfront available to build a hotel."

That means visitors have to stay a little farther away from the beach. A remodeled Ramada Inn has opened in the past year on the Venice Bypass. Holic says there are a few other sites pre-approved for buildings up to 65 feet tall: one is near I-75 and Laurel Road and the other two are on the island of Venice. One of those sites was recently redeveloped from an apartment complex to hotel, opened, and then closed.

"We don't build hotels. We need developers to come in and see what is available," says Holic.

The city is also now asking developers to come forward with ideas for the old Circus Arena. Holic thinks the shell of what's left could actually be used to create a new unique lodging establishment. “It would be an excellent way to save what the arena looked like. It could take the form of the old arena. A creative developer could do that very easily."

Of course all of this comes down to whether you even want more people coming. Venice's appeal for many is the small town feel, free of what many cities deal with. "It is a balancing act to satisfy the growth component and those who wish it to remain the same."

At one point not too long ago there was a Best Western Hotel here on the beach that was bought in 2003 for more than $24 million, and turned into condos. There really is no place else to build along the coast unless a condo building was sold and transformed.