Merida Sarasota Economic Development Meeting Dec 11, 2019

Meeting Notes
Merida, Yucatan, Mexico and Sarasota, Florida, USA
Meeting to Improve Trade and Tourism
Wednesday, Dec 11, 2019  10:00 am
111 Orange Avenue, Sarasota, Florida, Board Room 1st Floor

In attendance: Julio Sauma Castillo, City of Merida; Mike Fehily SSC; Philip Gordon SSC; Toni Duval SSC; Grisell Aleman SSC; Craig Hullinger SSC; Steve Stancil, City of Sarasota Economic Development

Craig Hullinger called the meeting to order at 10:07 am. He noted that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss how to improve trade, investment, and tourism between our two regions and countries. We will also discuss possible improved air and sea connections,

Hullinger asked each attendee to introduce themselves and tell us a little about themselves and their organization. Mike Fehily introduced our Merida representative, Mr. Julio Sauma Castillo, Secretary for the Department of Community Outreach, Merida, Mexico. He noted that Castillo is part of the cabinet of the Mayor of Merida.

Julio Castillo said that he was pleased to meet with Sarasota. He is head of Citizen Participation in Merida. He noted that Merida is the safest city in Mexico and that tourism was a major focus for the City.

Fehilly introduced Grisell Aleman who lives in Sarasota but is originally from Mexico and grew up in Merida. She is a graphic designer who has lived for 4.5 years in Sarasota. She was very pleased to find out that Sarasota and Merida are Sister cities, which she found out from our sign in Bayfront Park. She can also serve as an interpreter.

Steve Stancel noted that his department is fairly new, and is the merger of two redevelopment agencies, and now covers the entire city. They have a multifaceted approach and work directly with developers, run grant programs, and provide grants for cultural events which generates economic development. Sarasota is only about 100 years old, but we have a number of buildings that we are preserving. They also want to reduce impact fees for some areas of the city for incentives for redevelopment.

The City works closely with the County and State on economic development programs incentives. This allows for businesses to invest in our community to reduce their taxation to make it attractive to invest in the city. They are building many transportation improvements, including a lot of streetscapes, making the City more walkable.

The County handles most of the tourism programs. The County also handles a lot of the outreach looking for business investment.

Toni Duval is the President of Sarasota Sister Cities. She has only been President for a year. The organizaton has been very active. We made a commitment about 2 years ago to focus our efforts with our Sister Cities. Like most organizations we struggle with membership. We have had a visit to Merida and to the Mexican Mayors summit in Guadalhara, Mexico. We also sent a delegation to Perpignan, France.

We also sent a representative to Xiamen, China, Vladimir, Russia, and a delegation went to Perpignan, France. We are also transitioning from Treviso, Italy to Buseto, Italy, led by Phillip Gordon.

Phillip Gordon was born in Australia, Sydney. His mother was Italian, and they lived in Italy for some time. He speaks Italian fluently. He worked In the travel business with Globus, one of the biggest travel companies in the world, headquartered in Switzerland. Phillip was the CEO of the Globus North Amerian Division. Before he was CEO he was in product development. Worked with a team to set up tours including one in the Yucatan. He has been to Merida and got a good feel for the city and its beauty, and put together packages for trips to Yucatan,

He notes that we can improve tourism to Yucatan for North American tourists. Many tour companies have packages to the Yucatan, with the product focusing more on cultural attractions than the beach. Travel agents are always looking for something new.

Craig Hullinger notes that he is the new VP for Economic Development for Sister Cities. He is a city planner and did this type of work in Illinois.

Discussion on how to improve connections among the two communities

Mike Fehily noted that the two main ways to fly to Merida from Sarasota required airplane changes in Houston or Miami. United Airlines via Houston is the lowest cost and most reliable connection. A direct connection would be much better.

Gordon does some volunteering with Score which is a big non profit with volunteers who mentor entrepreneurs who want to start new businesses. He is working with Richard Vacar who used to be the CEO of the Sarasota Airport and has worked on improving air service. Vacar will work with us to see if we can gain support for a more direct route to Merida from our region.

Duval noted that the City Web site does not list our Sister Cities. Steve Stancel said that he could set up a meeting with the IT City staff.

There has been discussion about possible sea connections to and from our two metro areas. Porto Progresso is a new port that is about 20 miles from Merida. There are cruise ships that serve the port now, most of them coming from Texas.

The City of Sarasota is looking into ferry service in and near Sarasota.

Phillip Gordon noted that he would set up a meeting with Richard Vacar to discuss how we may pursue better air connections. Possible dates are January 14, 15, 22 or 23.

More Photos of the Meeting Dec 11, 2019

Photos of the Reception Dec 10, 2019





Improve tourism among our two regions.

Increase trade and investment among our two regions.

Discuss possibility of tourist / commercial ferry service to Puerto Progreso, Yucatan and Port Manatee.

Discuss the possibility of direct air connections among our two regions.

More info at

Sarasota Sister Cities has an established relationship with Merida, Yucatan, Mexico, directly across the Gulf of Mexico. The two cities have conducted numerous exchanges and desire to increase travel, trade, and economic links among the regions.

At present there is no direct air or sea connection between the two regions. A connecting flight to Houston or Miami is required and there is no passenger sea connection.

A direct connection between Yucatan / Quintana Roo / Merida and the Sarasota / Manatee / Tampa / Clearwater metro area could be very successful.

Population Metro Area

2,097,000_Yucatan including Merida,
1,501,562  Quintana Roo including Cancun and Cozemel

3,598,562 Total Yucatan / Quintana Roo

3,142,663___ Tampa Clearwater Metro
821,473   ___ Sarasota Manatee Metro

3,964,136___ Sarasota / Manatee / Tampa / Clearwater

Yucatán including Merida

Yucatan, the Mexican state, is known for its Gulf of Mexico beaches and Mayan ruins. Famed Chichén Itzá encompasses a massive pyramid, ball court and stone temples. Other Mayan sites include Ek Balam, noted for well preserved sculptures, and Uxmal, with its intricate carved facades. Yucatán’s capital and largest city, Mérida, has a Spanish colonial history reflected in buildings such as 16th-century Mérida Cathedral.

Population: 2.097 million (2015)    GDP: US$ 9,191,180.625 th

Quintana Roo

Quintana Roo, the youngest Mexican State, is adjacent to Yucatan and is a major tourist destination. The Riviera Maya is located along the Caribbean coastline, including Cancún, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos, Akumal and Cozumel. There are a number of Mayan archeological sites in Qintana Roo, including Chacchoben, Coba, Kohunlich, Muyil, San Gervasio, Tulum, Xcaret, Xelha, and Yo'okop.

Cancún International Airport is located in Cancún, Quintana Roo, on the Caribbean coast of Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. It is Latin America's fourth and Mexico's second busiest airport, after Mexico City International Airport. In 2018, Cancún airport handled 25,202,016 passengers, a 6.8% increase compared to 2017. Wikipedia


Sarasota metropolitan area is a metropolitan area located in Southwest Florida. The metropolitan area is defined by the Office of Management and Budget as the North Port–Sarasota–Bradenton metropolitan statistical area as a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) consisting of Manatee County and Sarasota County.[1] The largest cities in the MSA are North Port and Sarasota (both in Sarasota County) and Bradenton (in Manatee County). At the 2010 Census, the MSA had a population of 702,281. The Census Bureau estimates that its population was 821,573 in 2018.

Tampa–St. Petersburg–Clearwater Metropolitan Statistical AreaEdit

The population of the Tampa Bay MSA is estimated at 3,142,663 people as of 2018.

Sarasota Manatee Tourism Map