Archives for May 2015

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Van Wezel Beats St. Armands as Tourism Destination


SARASOTA – Move over, St. Armands Circle. The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall ranked as the No. 1 attraction in Sarasota County from January through March — the so-called “high season” — for the first time, the county’s tourism agency says.

St. Armands Circle — Lido Key’s premier destination for shopping and dining, just steps away from Sarasota’s sugary white sand beach and emerald Gulf waters — was beat out by the Van Wezel as the most visited attraction.

Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota, the county’s tourism agency, credits the change to the Van Wezel’s impressive programming this year.

“Every show at the Van Wezel this year was awesome,” Haley said. “It’s very exciting, as we’ve really pushed the cultural amenities of Sarasota in our marketing plans.”
Visit Sarasota regularly conducts visitor-intercept studies in which it asks tourists to list which attractions they visited during their stay.

It was a close competition.
Van Wezel was at the top, with 36 percent of visitors in the three-month period, while St. Armands Circle was around 35 percent. The new Mall at University Town Center was 30 percent. “I think the key is that the Van Wezel offers diversity,” said Mary Bensel, executive director of the Van Wezel. “We’re showing something different here every night that is of interest to all sorts of people, from concerts that appeal to younger people, to music and dance and our educational programs.”

The hall held performances of the musical “Jersey Boys” and more recently comedian Kathy Griffin.
The Van Wezel also offers performances by the Sarasota Orchestra and Sarasota Ballet and is home to the Ringling College of Art & Design’s Town Hall series.

Other statistics

Tourists from the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., region came to Sarasota County in record numbers this year, overtaking New York as the No. 1 source of visitors to Sarasota, the tourism agency reported.
Nearly 26,000 visitors from the Mid-Atlantic region came to Sarasota County from January through March, thanks in part to the Baltimore Orioles, which plays the spring training season at Ed Smith Stadium.

The number of visitors this year increased 128 percent from the 11,000 people who came from Baltimore and Washington in the same period last year.

“The sustained investment from our partnership with the Baltimore Orioles has really paid off,” Haley said. “This performance in the Mid-Atlantic region shows the benefits of the Orioles providing more than a million dollars of advertising and promotion annually in the D.C. and Baltimore area each of the last six years. It is great to see it be this successful.”

The 110,000 fans who attended the 2015 spring training season was a record for the franchise.

“The breadth and economic impact of the marketing partnership between VSC and the Orioles continues to be unprecedented in Major League Baseball,” Orioles spokesman Greg Bader said. “Our goal has always been to bring visitors from the Mid-Atlantic region to the greater Sarasota area, but we never imagined they would so quickly constitute the largest number of visitors to the region during the winter months.”

The Orioles’ overall economic impact on the region is more than $59 million, an analysis by Sarasota County government concluded.


Sarasota Herald Tribune May 8, 2015