MANATEE -- With the inclusion of $5 million for the Florida World Aquatic Center in the $70 billion state budget signed by Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday, supporters say the rowing facility is on track to achieve world class status.
"It sends a signal to the rest of the state and to the world that the Sarasota-Bradenton area is big time in the sports business," said Paul
Blackketter, project manager for Benderson Development Corp. and lead project manager on the facility.
The money will be spent on improvements to the sprint course, including the regatta timing system and a finish line tower at Nathan Benderson Park near the Manatee-Sarasota county line at University Parkway and Interstate 75.
FISA, the international governing body of rowing, approved the center's 2,000 meter course as the first Class A course in the U.S. to host national and world rowing championships. The center is bidding to host the 2017 World Rowing Championships and was recently booked to host an international dragon boat race in 2014. More than 100 teams and 3,000 people are expected to converge on the area for the IBCPC 2014 Breast Cancer Dragon Boat Festival.
For the last few years, the park has been the site of the Florida State Rowing Association championships and the Florida Intercollegiate Rowing championships.
The complex won't just be used for rowing, but for a number of sports. USA Triathlon is planning to tour the facility to consider using it for its collegiate national championship in 2015 and 2016.
"This is huge," said Jason Puckett, director of the Sarasota Sports Commission. "It allows us to continue the project and lock in vertical construction."
Completion of the facility calls for a $20 million investment from Sarasota County, $1.5 million from Manatee and $2 million from Benderson Development.
The Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates, a nonprofit Sarasota-based group that will operate the facility, will also need to raise an additional $20 million to complete the project, Blackketter said.
"It only helps with getting major events," Puckett said.
The $5 million signed by the governor will not be allocated toward the Fort Hamer Rowing Park in Manatee County, Blackketter said.
Manatee County government is in the design stage of making $650,000 of improvements to the park, which will include building a boat and trailer parking lot, boat ramp improvements, a playground, dock enhancements, gates, new stormwater system, a canoe/kayak storage area, a garage for parks and recreation equipment and a caged parking area for scull trailers.
Instead, Blackketter said Manatee will "enjoy the impact" of the center, which a survey conducted by the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates stated will generate $209 million annually from the estimated 750,000 new tourists that will come to the area, in addition to $12.5 million generated in sales tax.
"It's going to impact the state of Florida as well," said Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Visitor's Bureau. "It will impact Florida because there is so much competition for tourism around the globe. If our aquatic business is going after people in China, it keeps Florida top of mind and it keeps Sarasota-Bradenton at the top of minds. It helps us gain market share around the world. Visitors will become aware and come back in the future."
Falcione said the impact of a diverse visitor demographic the center will attract can have a dramatic effect on the Manatee area, in addition to families eating and staying at area restaurants and hotels.
"We have a great conversion rate," Falcione said. "Those visitors become residents and then they become business owners and they buy real estate."
Nick Williams, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Follow him on Twitter @_1NickWilliams.