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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

BP sending $30 million grant to seven counties in Florida Panhandle



Seven Panhandle counties deemed most affected by the BP oil spill will receive a $30 million grant from BP to amp up their marketing and tourism efforts, Gov. Rick Scott announced Monday.

The grant comes nearly two weeks shy of the disaster’s one-year anniversary. It ups the total amount of money BP has sent to Florida for seafood testing and tourism to $82 million.

Scott thanked BP for “stepping up,” though the money is a “very small step on the road to recovery.”

“It’s very important that we get the tourism season going well,” he said. He did not take questions after the announcement.

Scott and the Northwest Florida Tourism Council -- comprised of representatives from Escambia, Santa Rosa, Franklin, Okaloosa, Gulf, Bay and Walton counties -- signed agreements last week that establish a policy for how the money will be spent.

Each county has a different marketing plan. For example, Escambia plans to use its share for concerts, advertising in its core market (Atlanta, Birmingham, St. Louis and Houston), and gift cards for tourists who stay in hotels there, said Dennis McKinnon, executive director of the county’s tourist development council.

The money allows tiny Santa Rosa County to do more TV advertising, as well as pay artists to construct sand sculptures on the beach.

"It shows the beach. It shows how clean the sand is," said Kate Wilkes, executive director of Santa Rosa's tourist development council.

The council will measure the success of the grant through bed tax collections, crowd counts at events and web analytics, among other methods.

In other oil spill news, the governor's office, House and Senate are currently developing a strategy for filing a state claim for Florida's lost revenues in 2010, said Doug Darling, Scott's chief of staff.

"Under the Oil Pollution Act, that's one of the things we're obligated to do," said Luke Keller, executive vice president of BP's Gulf Coast Restoration Organization.

[Last modified: Monday, April 11, 2011 12:41pm]


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