Key Manatee projects earn Scott's blessing

May 22, 2013 

Gov. Rick Scott looked kindly on Manatee County in signing a record $74.1 billion state budget for 2013-2014 on Monday, approving a host of major projects that should be a boon to the area's economy. Even with Florida's first revenue surplus in six years, the governor still vetoed almost $368 million in spending, twice the amount from last year's line-item budget vetoes.

The region's big winners are the rowing competition site at Nathan Benderson Park across the Manatee County line in Sarasota, with a $5 million allocation; Bradenton's IMG Academy, $2.3 million; and Anna Maria Island beach renourishment, $2.5 million.

While pundits around the state have served up pointed jabs at the aquatic center, the park's economic potential could be described as a gold mine with competitors and spectators filling hotels, restaurants and shops for days on end.

Manatee County has committed $1.1 million in tourism taxes in a partnership with Sarasota County to help bring the 2017 World Rowing Championships to the park. Manatee commissioners are being asked to commit another $3.25 million to convince the international rowing federation to approve the region's bid to host this major event.

Similarly, IMG Academy plans to attract additional athletic events and competitions to the area with the state money. The global sports center is expanding its campus, too, this week cutting the ribbon on a new five-story residence hall for its private school. The $36 million expansion includes a 5,000-seat multisport stadium and a 40,000-square-foot field house, both to open this year.

The governor, though, hedged his bet on these two projects. Scott extracted signed pledges from both IMG and the aquatic center to return the state money should the projects fail to satisfy the governor's expectations for new sales tax revenue.

Considering IMG's strong track record and the potent public-private partnership behind the rowing center, the betting line here is both projects will more than satisfy Scott.

Beach renourishment should be another boon to tourism with state money matching federal and local funds. Anna Maria Island lost a lot of sand to storm erosion, decimating some spots.

Other winners

Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Lakewood Ranch will be able to reduce tuition for Florida residents thanks to $1.69 million in state funds. The medical college and pharmacy is vital to strengthening the county's health care community should graduates remain here to practice.

Port Manatee is in line for infrastructure improvements for its stake in the $278 million allocated for development of the state's ports. Port Manatee also intends to recruit new businesses and create new jobs as well, the governor's highest priority since taking office.

Scott spared the disadvantaged from his vetoes with $500,000 for the Turning Points homeless program based in the Bill Galvano One Stop Center and $660,000 to Sarasota's Fetal Alcohol Diagnostic and Intervention Clinic.

The Manatee and Sarasota legislative delegations must have quite convincing in defense of all these projects. The governor produced a 58-page document detailing the reasons for each veto and apparently he could not justify rejecting our area's big items.

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