Saturday, December 16, 2017
Business

Clearwater Beach has another booming spring break

CLEARWATER — The official numbers aren't in, but anecdotally, Pinellas County beaches had another banner spring break.

One word to describe the peak season of March and April on Clearwater Beach?

"Awesome," said Jay Thomas, owner of the Brown Boxer Pub and Grill.

"Awesome," echoed J.R. Patel, general manager of Pier House 60 Marina Hotel.

Darlene Kole broke script.

"Marvelous," said the president and CEO of the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce.

Up and down Pinellas County's premier tourist beach, businesses and hotels reported revenues up significantly from last year's record-breaker season.

The best barometer of success — bed tax revenue — won't be available for a few months, but the early reports are promising.

A monster winter up North was a significant factor for the success, although, in early March, closed airports in Northern states played a role in a somewhat sluggish start to the tourist rush, said Brian Kramer, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa.

The Hyatt's March revenue didn't top last year, but a great April made up for it, he said.

Overall, the big pink landmark on the beach bested its 2013 numbers, he said.

A steady stream of families, Europeans and Latin Americans — including a big bump in Brazilian tourists — helped pack the beach, Kole said.

"It's not just college kids anymore, it's families getting away from a brutal winter. It's people right here on our own coast, driving up because they've heard so much about our beach," Kole said.

Clearwater City Manager Bill Horne said the city's sales tax collections increased over last year, although exact numbers are still being tallied. The most recent peak season continues a hot streak of several years standing, he said.

At this point, the beach's reputation as a springtime mecca translates into a steady stream of dollars, he said.

"Success feeds on itself," Horne said.

Thomas agrees.

The Brown Boxer's owner said revenues were up 22 percent in March and 16 percent in April over last year. Another location in Madeira Beach performed with similar vigor, he said.

Other Pinellas County beach towns said the spring season was strong, although college spring breakers weren't a very visible presence.

"St. Pete Beach for the most part has never had a large influence from college spring break," said Gregg Nicklaus, a co-owner of the 382-room Sirata Beach Resort.

"The entertainment, the type of establishments that service that demographic really aren't here. Not that there aren't bars and restaurants, but they don't foster that late-night element many college kids seem interested in."

Still, occupancy was high at the family-owned property in March and April, with families and couples, he said.

Bob Sauerwine, sales and marketing director at the Post Card Inn at St. Pete Beach, agreed spring breakers aren't a big factor for hotels along the county's southern beaches.

"It is still a very high-demand period," he said. "There are a lot of sports events going on out here that we cater to."

Youth sports tournaments, along with the St. Anthony's Triathlon and St. Petersburg Grand Prix, kept occupancy high while college kids were partying to the north.

Both said this spring proved stronger than last year's.

In Clearwater, the peak season has increasingly taken on a cherry-red hue as Phillies fans in town for spring training have flocked to the beach, said Thomas, a Philadelphia-area native who opened the Brown Boxer on Clearwater Beach in 2010.

"That's our spring break. Phillies fans," he said.

Hoyt Hamilton, newly elected to the City Council and longtime part-owner of his family's Palm Pavilion restaurant, said the family atmosphere promoted on the beach — alcohol isn't allowed on the sand — has paid off for Clearwater.

"We still get our share of college people, but we don't project the party atmosphere that other places do. You can't get away in Clearwater with what you can in Panama City or South Padre Island (Texas)," he said.

Policing the beach during spring break was quiet this year, Lt. William Valveri said.

"It was a very calm year for us," he said.

There were a few headline-grabbing incidents that went national — a college kid clubbing a seagull to death, a tourist stealing (then returning) a $5,500 wrestling shoe signed by Hulk Hogan from his eponymous beach shop — but little of the bacchanal-fueled mayhem that springs to mind when people think of Florida, beaches and spring.

The main problem was traffic, Valveri said. The roundabout at the western end of Memorial Causeway frequently became clogged as tourists crossed the street singly or small groups slowed traffic.

In response, the police department deployed police volunteers and AmeriCorps workers to better coordinate the pedestrian flow. They held people at crosswalks until bigger crowds formed, much like crowd control at major sporting events or concerts. A smoother traffic pattern garnered praise from beach businesses, Valveri said.

The traffic isn't likely to disappear now that it's May. In many ways, it's spring break all year long on Clearwater Beach. In the not-too-distant past, May was frequently a slow month. This year, say several business and hotel operators, the crowds haven't slackened much.

"We feel like we're still in the season. Usually, after Easter, it's pretty much dying down. Not this year," Patel said.

Times staff writer Katherine Snow Smith contributed to this report. Charlie Frago can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4159. Follow @CharlieFrago on Twitter.

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