Sarasota mayor swims with sharks in hopes of attracting Google

Mayor Richard Clapp showed no fear when he jumped into a tankful of bonnethead sharks Wednesday.

Clapp took his dip into Mote Aquarium’s SharkTracker exhibit to create a buzz about Sarasota’s quest to become the test city for the Google Fiber system.

About 50 supporters, along with a gang of media people, watched as the mayor plunged into the tank and played up to the cameras through the large glass windows for about 15 minutes.

Although the bonnethead couldn’t be called a “man-eater,” swimming with the smaller relative of the hammerhead shark is a lot more impressive to some than Mayor Don Ness, of Duluth, Minn., jumping into a frigid Lake Superior.

“He popped out in three seconds,” Clapp said of Ness.

The Sarasota mayor said the once-in-a-lifetime event was important to get the community talking about the importance of having a chance to be one of the first cities wired for a ultra-high speed broadband network.

Google has issued a challenge to residents to nominate their communities to be part of the one-gigabit bandwidth fiber optic trial.

Before the mayor took his swim with the sharks, Rich Swier, one of the founders of The Hub, an idea lab for entrepreneurs, told the crowd that having Sarasota wired would be a big economic driver for the area.

“It would put Sarasota on the map,” said Swier, who has promoted the competition by having the city council change the name of City Island to Google Island. “If we want to attract entrepreneurs, Google Fiber is important.”

Gary Kirkpatrick, director of Mote’s Phytoplankton Ecology Program, provided a few examples of how the world-renowned marine laboratory would benefit from the high-speed connection to the Internet.

Mote has been promoting distance-learning educational opportunities since 1996 through video-conferencing technology, but with the larger bandwidth, the program would be available to more students over the Internet.

Faster transmission of scientific information also would improve Mote’s mission of providing research data to other marine institutes, Kirkpatrick said.

“Google Fiber holds the promise to make this possible in a timely matter,” he said.

For Vice Mayor Kelly Kirschner, having Google Fiber would make Sarasota more attractive to investors and help the institutions already in Sarasota County.

Kirschner said it was the high quality of those institutions, such as Sarasota Memorial Hospital, the Ringling College of Art and Design, and Mote, that puts Sarasota in a good position to be chosen.

Mike Kuzdzal, of Wichita, Kan., said having a high-speed bandwidth system would definitely be a plus in attracting businesses to the community.

Kuzdzal said he is in the aerospace business, and if he needed to download a design document over available bandwidth it could take three hours.

At one gigabit, it would be only three or four minutes, he said.

“Anyone using bandwidth would look at an area where everyone is wired in,” said Kuzdzal, who was visiting a friend in Sarasota with his wife, Heather, and two sons, Colton and Carson.

Carl Mario Nudi, Herald reporter, can be reached at 745-7027.