IMG, Sarasota rowing facility still in the running for state funding, lawmakers say

toconnor@bradenton.comMarch 28, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Last year the rowing facility going in at Nathan Benderson Park received $5 million in state funding.

This year, it has so far received nothing from the House although the Senate budget reflects a $2.5 million allocation.

State Reps. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, and Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, said there is still time for rowing facility money to be included in this year's budget. But lawmakers want to know how any allocation would be spent and why it's needed again this year.

"The rowing facility project still needs a little more education on our part for legislators," Boyd said in a phone call made after emerging from a Tallahassee session after 7 p.m. "There's an appetite for it in the House and the Senate and the Manatee and Sarasota delegation will continue to push hard for it."

Holder said he plans to discuss the need for rowing facility funding in detail with state Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, chairman of the House Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee.

He wants to ensure Hooper knows the Aquatic Center came back for more funding after last year's successful request created a worldwide stir in the rowing community, Holder said.

"We could land the Super Bowl of the rowing community," Holder said of the possibility of being granted a national championship event as well as Olympic trials once the rowing facility is built.

Holder said an economic development impact study will help answer all questions being asked by legislators who thought last year's allocation was all that was needed to build the rowing facility.

"Today was an interesting day," Holder said. "It's not a turndown. It's just not in the budget yet."

Organizers of the $45 million project are reportedly still $20 million short of being able to build the world-class facility anchored by a boathouse.

On a more successful note, a $3 million request by the IMG Academy in Bradenton was OK'd, Holder said. But how it gained legislative momentum is a mystery.

"Our delegation is not sure where that push came from," Holder said. "Apparently, IMG has done a really good job of presenting it."

The IMG funding will go toward campus and educational improvements, Holder said.

Boyd said the IMG funding was a no-brainer given all the organization does for the community.

"If you look at all IMG brings to our community in terms of jobs and economic development, its benefits run the across the gamut," Boyd said. "Certainly IMG is one of the pre-eminent sports and training facilities in the world. Anything we can do to help them grow, to the extent we can help them grow, only helps the community."

With five weeks left in this legislative session, Boyd said he was encouraged by the bipartisan approach taken by his colleagues.

"So far things are moving along fast and well," he said.

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