ROB VARLEY: Westin Hotel Convention Center Project Not Fair Unless Brevard County Does Detailed Study

YOUR OPINION • YOUR VIEW

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rob Varley was the executive director of Florida’s Space Coast Office of Tourism for more than 20 years, retiring in 2014 after leading Brevard County tourism through a time of accelerated growth and challenges. (Space Coast Office of Tourism image)

In my opinion, the proposed Westin Hotel Convention Center Project will not be a fair and equal playing field unless the county does due diligence and commissions a detailed study of not just this one project, but of the real needs of the community at large, with respect to building a convention center.

It is commendable that Brevard County is looking into how to best invest the resort tax dollars generated by visitors staying in our area hotels, motels, campgrounds, etc.

When Brevard County residents voted in the Brevard County’s resort tax on area lodging, they were convinced that the proposed uses of the funds would benefit the Space Coast as a whole.

Over the years the county has done a pretty good job managing these important economic development funds. We built a World-Class Zoo, invested wisely in beach renourishment, supported the local arts, brought in thousands of sporting events, invested in our area beach and river parks, attracted major filming and television projects, and attracted birding and wildlife enthusiasts from around the world.

An important part of the county’s successful tourism industry is its partnership with the private sector. Certainly, partnering with Port Canaveral, Kennedy Space Center and the Cruise Lines at tourism trade shows and in advertising has paid great dividends to our economy over the years. As have our partnerships with area hotels and other attractions in the area.

When partnering with the private sector, the tourism office must always consider how that partnership will benefit the overall community. And, is that partnership open to similar private sector businesses. A fair and equal playing field should be a must for the Brevard County Tourism Office.

In my opinion, the proposed Westin Hotel Convention Center Project will not be a fair and equal playing field unless the county does due diligence and commissions a detailed study of not just this one project, but of the real needs of the community at large, with respect to building a convention center.

The county should be obligated to then provide that study to all interested hotel developers, asking them for their ideas, input and proposals.

I’m not talking about just Cocoa Beach hotel developers. The county should make sure the study looks at all areas of the Space Coast. The study should include how to develop the best agreement with the “winning” proposal that will benefit the entire county. Only, then, will it be a fair and equitable project.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rob Varley was the executive director of Florida’s Space Coast Office of Tourism for more than 20 years, retiring in 2014 after leading Brevard County tourism through a time of accelerated growth and challenges.

After getting his tourism background in Texas and California, Varley came to the Space Coast, bringing a vision of strong county cooperation.

He put an emphasis on clean county beaches, positioning Port Canaveral as a major tourist attraction, partnering with the Melbourne Orlando International Airport to market and attract more airlines, and recognized that our wetlands are the most productive of the world’s ecosystems.

Varley offered opportunities for sustainable tourism and recreation and collaborated with the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to expand human presence at this world-famous tourist attraction.

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