State budget includes $5 million for Sarasota rowing park, $2.3 million for IMG

toconnor@bradenton.comApril 30, 2013 

The 2013 legislative session looks to be productive financially and legislatively for Manatee County interests.

Nothing is assured of surviving Gov. Rick Scott's line-item veto until the Legislature disperses Friday but a nerve-wracking session is on its way to ending well for Manatee County.

The best example is how $5 million for the world-class Sarasota rowing facility, which has been in and out of the budget, is now back in. The money is key to building the facility into an Olympic-level attraction seen as capable of churning up major tourism dollars.

"This has been a crazy rollercoaster session," said Paul Blackketter of Benderson Development of Sarasota, who spearheaded lobbying efforts for the rowing facility. "It's been most challenging. It took some work but we had the right people and right leadership to make it happen."

Other good examples of Manatee County returns on its tax dollars include $2.3 million for IMG Academy in Bradenton and increased funding for charter schools and universities.

The rowing facility money greatly increases the area's chances of winning a lucrative world championship, Blackketter said. A completed bid will be submitted to the Federation of International Rowing in June with a final presentation in Switzerland July 14. The event will then be awarded Sept. 2.

"We owe a lot of things to our local delegation -- every one," Blackketter said. "Sarasota and Manatee County were a true partnership getting behind this cause in Tallahassee. We needed this capital improvement to ensure we have what we need to lure a world championship."

Former state Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, now Manatee County supervisor of elections, viewed this session with keen interest in his first year after being termed out of the Legislature. He was impressed with the Manatee County representation.

"I think (state Sen.) Bill Galvano and (state Rep.) Jim Boyd have done a great job," Bennett said. "We did a good job last year but those guys really knocked it out of the park. They've really been exceptional."

Boyd said it's been a good year legislatively for Manatee and Sarasota counties and the entire state. He was most pleased his bills on elections and ethics reforms passed with overwhelming support.

"We put two very good bills out there and we passed those in a bipartisan manner," Boyd said. "Elections had one vote against it and ethics was unanimous."

Bennett credited Galvano, R-Bradenton, for "important achievements" in helping steer the ethics bill and funding for the Sarasota rowing facility through legislative opposition.

"Galvano writing the ethics bill took on a heavy load," Bennett said. "Manatee County should be proud."

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