$6.5M more needed to pay for 2017 rowing championship

Manatee, Sarasota asked to OK $3.25M each

cschelle@bradenton.comMay 16, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Manatee and Sarasota counties are being asked to commit $6.5 million more to help bring the 2017 World Rowing Championships to Nathan Benderson Park.

Manatee County Commissioners and their Sarasota County counterparts are being asked to kick in $3.25 million each to fund the operational budget of the rowing event, said Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"We're going to work hard to make sure that budget is right where it needs to be," Falcione said.

The counties' operating budgets will not exceed $6.5 million, he stressed.

The Tourism Development Council unanimously recommended Wednesday for Manatee County Commission to commit to the guarantee.

The money is part of a financial guarantee to be included in the bid packet submitted June 30 to FISA, the international rowing federation, Falcione said.

Manatee County has already committed $1.1 million in tourism taxes to fund the bidding process, with Sarasota County paying $1.16 million for its share. Sarasota County's tourism dollars have also kicked in $20 million in improvements to renovate Nathan Benderson Park for the games.

Manatee County's money will come from the tourist development tax collected from visitors staying at hotels, Falcione said. The governments have the next 4 1/2 years to come up with the money, so the counties are now just saying that they'll be able to pay, he said.

"We're not writing anybody a check. We're just guaranteeing it," Falcione said.

Organizers and tourism officials are working on how to pay back the expenses, Falcione said.

Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Association, the local organization overseeing the rowing venue, will also work to secure sponsorships from corporations and organizations to offset costs, Falcione said. SANCA will have to ask local governments to approve reimbursements for its expenses, he said.

Once all bids are submitted, it kicks into motion the selection process to find out if Sarasota will land the 2017

World Rowing Championships, the 2016 Rowing World Cup and potentially another major rowing event in 2018, Falcione said.

The bid is expected to be awarded during the last week in August. Officials here will travel to South Korea to make their final sales pitch July 14, he said.

State funding is being pursued through the Sports Foundation, which provides money for sporting events, including the Super Bowl, he said.

"We also have a meeting scheduled with U.S. Rowing when we go to Switzerland to strategize ways to get money out of Washington, D.C., whether it be the federal government or some kind of national entity to help support this endeavor as well," he said.

Carol Whitmore, county commissioner and chairwoman of the Tourist Development Council, said the international factor of the games cannot be overlooked when pursuing funding.

"This rowing event, if we get it, we're representing the United States of America. We're not representing Florida," she said. "We're representing the entire United States of America, so this should be supported by our federal government as well as the state."

If the championships don't make money, the two counties will split the shortfall, and only tourism dollars will pay off the balance in Manatee County, Falcione said.

Tourism officials estimate the 2017 event will have a $24 million economic impact on the area, attracting 42,000 visitors, filling 40,000 room nights in hotels and attracting 130 million TV and Internet viewers worldwide.

The request comes as local officials await Gov. Rick Scott to sign the state budget, which includes $5 million dedicated to the rowing facility, to pay for a tower and judges' stands. SANCA needs $15 million to complete the venue.

Scott has not said when he will sign off on the approved budget by the Legislature, or if he will veto. However, tourism officials indicated that Scott held discussions with officials about the bid in April.

Seeking a hotel

In other action Wednesday, the TDC said it is adjusting its two-year budget to accommodate for a planned hotel beside the Bradenton Area Convention Center to coincide with hosting the 2015 Florida Huddle Trade Show.

Visit Florida, which operates the Huddle, originally scheduled for the show to come in 2014, but instead pushed it back to 2015 to give time for officials to pursue a hotel. The CVB is requesting $50,000 in marketing funds for the trade show.

The CVB's fiscal 2014 and 2015 budget, set at $5.2 million for each year, will go before the county commission for approval June 5.

The county is working to extend Seventh Street beside the Convention Center, One Haben Boulevard, in anticipation for hotel development.

The county is poised to solicit a request for qualifications this summer for a developer to build a hotel according to specifications, Falcione said.

A consultant's study plans to ask a hotel developer to build a 120-room tower hotel with a parking garage on the bottom, and would feature meeting space and an oversized kitchen.

The hotel will be beneficial beyond the event, Falcione said, providing space for Feld Entertainment's workers and guests, as the circus company continues to expand in Ellenton.

"We have Feld on the other side of the river, who is in dire need of hotels on that same side of the river," he said.

"Right now, they're heading south to house a lot of their people."

If the TDC is unable to secure funds to attract a hotel, marketing money for the Huddle show would be diverted to international marketing efforts, Falcione said.

Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095.

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