Some Manatee County residents are still skeptical about the support the county is throwing behind a Sarasota County event, and rowing officials hope to win those residents over.
The 2017 World Rowing Championship has a $7.7 million operating budget, with most of that -- $5.5 million -- split between Manatee and Sarasota counties' bed taxes. Property taxes were not used or affected.
The Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates is obligated to repay the county, along with paying back state grants if the venue doesn't produced more than $25 million in state sales tax revenue from July 1 through Dec. 30, 2018. The state awarded two $5 million grants to the nonprofit.
The championship itself does not generate an overwhelming amount of revenue. The 2017 event is expected to break even or have a "slight surplus," said Glenn Merry, chief executive officer of U.S. Rowing.
So, expecting a $7.7 million event to bring in $15 million would be unrealistic by those estimates.
"Everything in the budget has been solid and well thought out," Merry said. "Some of those aspects, they have big swing factors to it and I think they've done a lot to mitigate the exposure to SANCA."
Revenue will come from selling television and merchandising rights, spon
sorships and tickets, Merry said.
"When you put the bid together, you're often four or five years out, and a lot of things change over time," Merry said. "Even things like currency exchange, because the things you're guaranteeing are in European currencies, whether Swiss francs or euros. So those things could be impactful."
Area leaders are focusing on the economic impact numbers and hotel stays to boost tax revenue. Sarasota County officials say holding 10 regattas a year at Benderson Park would generate $12 million in spending at local businesses and hotels annually, and the 2017 event would churn out $24 million for the area and $12 million in direct spending for the region.
"Every time we have a team that comes down, they actually pay for the tourist bed taxes that develops all of this," said Paul Blackketter, SANCA chief executive. "The more teams that come, the more bed tax we generate and the more events we can have. "
Each major team for worlds could send about 86 athletes to the region, Merry said.
"Once they're here, they're going to see the benefits and want to come back," he said.
The majority of the $40 million venue is paid by tourists when they stay at area hotels and resorts as part of the "bed tax."
"You don't think having Harvard here is a good thing? It's a great thing," Blackketter said. "It's an investment because they love this area. Year after year, each kid rolls through here and makes it their winter home. They know Sarasota-Bradenton as a destination and one day they're going to invest and reinvest and open up a business."
Manatee County-based Benderson Development has the most to gain from the 2017 race. Benderson, which headquarters on Cooper Creek Boulevard, owns much of the retail space on the Manatee and Sarasota county side of University Parkway, along with hotels, additional planned hotels and a mall under construction to create jobs for the area to complement the rowing venue.
The company has a shared-use agreement for the northern 101 acres of Benderson Park with Sarasota County and helped set the vision for the rowing venue. The park was named after the late Nathan Benderson, father to Benderson Development President Randy Benderson.
In a rare public speech, Benderson said: "My father is so happy right now."
"For us, it's bigger than our dream was," he said about the rowing championship. "To be representing the USA means so much to us."
Parrish place in rowing
Because there is only so much water at Benderson Lake, teams will spend time and money in Manatee County's Fort Hamer Park, Blackketter said. Fort Hamer will host more local events as national and international rowing events are booked at Benderson Park.
"Fort Hamer will become one of the main training locations," Blackketter said.
Beyond the Olympic training, Fort Hamer hosts Harvard and more than 15 colleges training there during the winter, he said.
Manatee County high schools are already expanding programs and using the site, providing a great opportunity for youth sports, and now SANCA wants to establish a masters rowing program in Parrish for ages 21 and up.
The use isn't limited to sculls, Blackketter said. More dragon boats, kayaks and canoes will come to the park as well, plus a paddlefest event will be held at Fort Hamer.
Blackketter said he reads criticism from folks who post comments online about the rowing venue. One is how rowing is for rich folk as economic officials praise the "high demographic" families who will be coming to the area.
The rowing community is doing its part to be inclusive, he said. Benderson Development donates money to rowing clubs for scholarships for low-income children, Blackketter said, and SANCA already has a strong outreach to people from all backgrounds.
"Anybody can get in and row," Blackketter said. "The community has to be involved. This is a sport that has great scholarships. Once the community actually becomes part of it and gets involved, then they support it by that way."
The success could be seen at a recent rowing orientation held by the Manatee County Youth Rowing Club.
Coach Trish Jackson said more than 100 students from Palmetto, Southeast and Manatee high schools attended the orientation Saturday, and a waiting list exists for middle school rowing teams.
The way Blackketter sees it, having the high schools using the same course as Ivy League colleges is a point of pride for the region.
"Right now, Palmetto High rows next to Harvard," Blackketter said. "It's pretty incredible."
Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.