IMG wins, Benderson Park loses state funding

jbartolone@bradenton.comApril 30, 2014 

Rowers race to the finish on the first day of the Masters Rowing Championship at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota.TIFFANY TOMPKINS-CONDIE/Bradenton Herald file photo

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MANATEE -- The state Legislature has good news and bad news for two of the Manatee-Sarasota region's major players in sports tourism.

The good news, for Bradenton's IMG Academies: It's getting $2.5 million in additional state funding.

The bad news, for the new rowing venue at Nathan Benderson Park: No state money this year.

The list of appropriations being hammered out by state lawmakers in Tallahassee includes funding for IMG but nothing for Benderson Park, set to host the World Rowing Championship in 2017.

"This was simply not our year," said Paul Blackketter, president and chief operating officer of Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates Inc., the nonprofit that manages the park.

A paperwork snafu that resulted in SANCA temporarily losing its charitable state license likely played a part in lawmakers' decision not to spend money on the rowing facility. SANCA has come under fire for relying

too heavily on government funding -- it has received $10 million from the state and $19.5 million from Sarasota County, plus money from tourist development taxes -- and not raising enough private money.

"The state of Florida cannot be their sole source of income," said state Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice. "They need to make sure they can raise money privately."

Blackketter said that message is received loud and clear.

"I think our foundation will answer the call," Blackketter said. "We need to demonstrate our own mettle."

SANCA hopes to raise $11 million this year to keep the rowing project on track. A total of $21 million is needed to finish the work, which includes the construction of a boat house, finish tower and grandstands.

The group aims to finish the facility by the first quarter of 2016 in preparation for the World Rowing Championship, which is expected to bring thousands of international visitors and millions of tourism dollars to the region.

"We have the time to get where we need to be," Blackketter said.

IMG is in the midst of a $36 million, 100-plus-acre expansion of its West Bradenton facilities.

The business, which draws amateur and professional athletes from around the world to train, recently hosted Major League Soccer preseason games. It is also one of the county's largest employers with 530 full-time and 170 part-time workers. IMG officials plan to add more than 200 jobs.

“We are happy to hear that IMG Academy was allocated funds within the state budget to allow us to continue expanding at an exciting pace," said IMG chief financial officer Chip McCarthy in a statement. "Our ability to continue positively impacting the region hinges on continued development of our campus facilities and amenities. It’s very rewarding when our state government recognizes the impact we are having and supports our vision for continued growth.”

Jason Bartolone, East Manatee Editor, can be reached at 941-745-7011. Follow him on Twitter @JasonBartolone.

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