SANCA submits records to state, regains charitable license

srocco@bradenton.comApril 11, 2014 

UNIVERSITY PARK -- The nonprofit that oversees management of Nathan Benderson Park submitted financial records to state regulators Thursday after losing a charitable license that allows them to solicit donations.

Paul Blackketter, president of Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates Inc., the nonprofit, emailed the records, a 990 IRS report, to state regulator Aleta King around 5:15 p.m.

"We're in conversation with the state and we expect to be back in good standing in short order," Blackketter said Friday.

According to a letter sent to SANCA on Friday by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences, the organization is back in good standing. The nonprofit will now be able to solicit donations to run Benderson Park and finish construction projects, including a boat house, finish tower and grand stands.

Blackketter said Friday that SANCA is in the process of creating a foundation exclusively for fundraising, which will be up and running in the next few months. The foundation name and launch date is still to be determined.

"SANCA will be self-sufficient with the support of the foundation," he said, adding that SANCA is also designing the schematics of Benderson Park's boat house, which will serve as a multi-use community center and another source of sponsorship opportunities.

Because of the licensing mishap, the organization is now hiring an accountant, a bookkeeper and possibly a chief financial officer.

"It's a lesson learned and certainly one not to be repeated," Blackketter said.

Regulators tried for months to retrieve documents detailing the organization's financial status from fiscal year 2012, state records show. After receiving no response, regulators notified the organization in a letter dated Jan. 10 that its charitable license had been revoked.

Blackketter said that the group had been so focused on developing events and marketing the park that the licensing issue simply "slipped through the cracks."

Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh was pleased to hear that SANCA had filed their documents with the state.

"I think that it's a mistake that will probably never ever happen again. I'm sure it was humiliating and very difficult, but I'm glad that it's all straightened out because we need to move forward and make the rowing venue a success," she said.

The Sarasota County Commission approved an agreement March 19 allowing SANCA to operate and manage the rowing venue and collect all revenue. But if SANCA wants to renew the agreement in 2019, it will be required to raise money and implement roughly $22 million in improvements.

SANCA, which has already faced criticism for relying too heavily on government funding, has done little to raise funds on its own. In 2011 and 2012, SANCA raised a total of $427,559, records show. Benderson Development, who donated $247,496 in in-kind contributions for staff, was the organization's biggest contributor.

Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @sabrinarocco.

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