TOXIC WATER: Martin County Convention and Visitors Bureau loses funding during toxic water crisis

STUART, Fla. -- After seven successful years of promoting tourism in Martin County, the Martin County Convention and Visitor's Bureau has lost funding and will close permanently.

Martin County Commissioner Sarah Heard says this is a decision that the county has been debating for some time.

Businesses that rely on the tourism organization say the timing of the bureau closing doesn't help their toxic water struggles.

Martin County Charter Boat Captain Mike Conner is struggling to get anyone to go fishing with him.

"You just can't take people on the water that's marked toxic, no human contact," Conner said.

He's only taken two groups fishing in more than two months. Toxic water has cost his business nearly $15,000. "We're up against a wall with nowhere to go," Conner explained.

The Martin County Convention and Visitor's Bureau was trying to bring back some business for Conner, and other business owners who are struggling to make ends meet.

But instead, boxes now fill the bureau as it prepares to close.

"I don't think they were doing enough," said Heard.

Throughout the toxic water crisis, Heard says hotels have not shown enough increases in bookings. Heard also says the bureau did not make a strong presence at toxic water rallies and events.

"I've been at all these events, and they should have been too," Heard explained.

Officials with the Martin County Convention and Tourism Bureau say Heard is mistaken. They say they have worked to combat the toxic water.

Efforts include sending letters to Governor Rick Scott asking for his immediate attention to the critical toxic water issue.

The bureau was also collecting information from businesses to determine how much money they are losing.

Officials were going to use the data to apply for a grant that would give the bureau more money for marketing efforts.

Heard says the Parks Department will now take over tourism. "We're going to spend the same amount on marketing, we just hope to have better results," Heard explained.

Heard says the county is still exploring options on how to implement tourism in the Parks Department, but  says that could include adding staff.

Connor worries efforts will not remain strong enough to promote tourism in Martin County. He says he may have to take some matters into his own hands.

 "I'm going to have to work a lot harder to promote myself and get my customers back," Conner said.

The Convention and Visitor's Bureau will remain open until September 30.





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