Amended financial agreement for World Rowing Championships makes it clear Benderson Development will cover any cost overruns

County Commission also approves plan for unpaved parking lot at Benderson Park

The World Rowing Championships website banner has its own clock, ticking down the seconds, minutes, hours and days. Image from

With the clock at Nathan Benderson Park continuing to count down the days until the Sept. 23 opening of the World Rowing Championships, the Sarasota County Commission unanimously has approved an amended financial agreement for the event making it clear that Benderson Development Co. will cover any shortfall in expenses.

A stipulation in the revised document calls for the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates Inc. (SANCA) to “disclose and obtain the approval of Benderson for the Event budget on a recurring basis through the conclusion of the Event.”

Although Sarasota County owns the park, SANCA manages all the events there under terms of a 2014 contract with the county.

The park is named for the founder of Benderson Development. It is located near the Mall at University Town Center, in which Benderson was a development partner, and University Parkway.

The budget for the World Rowing Championships provided to the County Commission in advance of its July 11 meeting was dated June 2. It projects total revenues at $9,476,380 — including a $2.5-million grant from the state this year — and expenses of $8,959,420, leaving a contingency fund of $516,960. Total ticket sale revenue as put at $566,000, while partnership contributions were listed at $500,000.

Both Sarasota and Manatee counties have committed a total of $2,782,000 each to cover the costs. Sarasota County’s contribution is coming out of Tourist Development Tax revenue, Carolyn Brown, director of Sarasota County’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, has reminded the commissioners.

The amended agreement includes this language about Benderson’s commitment. Image courtesy Sarasota County
The original agreement contained this language about Benderson’s commitment. Image courtesy Sarasota County

On July 11, the Sarasota board also approved construction of a new 500-space parking area within Benderson Park, with the goal of having that ready before competition begins next month.

The commission’s vote on the amended financial agreement with SANCA regarding the World Rowing Championships (WRC) expenses was among its last acts before it began its summer recess in mid-July. Just a day later — on July 12 — Meredith Scerba, executive director of the event, assured Commissioner Nancy Detert that she believes the championships will break even, at the very least.

Detert has posed questions a number of times about SANCA finances since she joined the board in November 2016. She noted on one occasion that when she was serving in the Florida Legislature, SANCA representatives never provided documents for which she asked.

Details of the changes

This is the World Rowing Championships projected budget included in the July 11 County Commission agenda packet. Image courtesy Sarasota County

A memo provided to the board in advance of its July 11 regular meeting said, “Parties to the Reimbursement Agreement approved August 27, 2013, are proposing changes to more accurately reflect the current event budget and to provide the flexibility needed as final plans are put into place.”

Among the changes, the memo continues, are the following:

  • “A revised budget for the 2017 WRC event.
  • “A modification of SANCA’s fundraising obligation to focus directly on the WRC event.
  • “Additional procedural measures to ensure parity for Sarasota County and Manatee County regarding their reimbursements to SANCA for the WRC event.”
  • “Clarification as to how a correction of any disparity in reimbursement that might occur will be remedied after the event.
  • “Further definition of the role of each County’s designated County Representative, especially in the areas of approvals, sponsorships, and meetings.”
  • “Replacement of the Guaranty of Performance from Benderson Development Company, LLC, establishing its financial commitments to the planning, hosting and staging of the WRC event.”

In the section regarding “Valid Reimbursable Costs,” the amended agreement identifies those as the costs in the revised project budget, saying they may include “permanent investments in and improvements to Nathan Benderson Park, provided that these expenses are necessary to stage the [World Rowing Championships].”

In a section specifically regarding reimbursements to SANCA, new clauses call for Sarasota County and Manatee County both to receive “supporting documentation including Event Fund bank statement showing invoice payments” from the nonprofit.

In October 2016, the County Commission saw this slide about ticketing information for the event. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Additionally, the amended agreement says the counties “may agree to remit payment [to SANCA] for Reimbursable Costs on a basis other than the expense categories set forth in the Revised Project Budget, provided that their overall Individual County Reimbursements … are equal …”

The original agreement said the counties “may agree to pay” individual costs on a 50/50 basis.

Another amended section calls for SANCA to “designate an individual(s) or firm with experience in fundraising whose sole responsibility is to establish and implement a plan for organizing and obtaining sponsors, donors and grants on behalf of the [WRC].” That section previously called for SANCA to take such action no later than March 1, 2014, and it included language saying the fundraising entity was to seek donors and grants not just for the event but also potentially for “the construction of major capital facilities required to host the Event.”

The parking plan

Another memo provided to the County Commission in advance of its July 11 meeting explains that on Jan. 25, 2011, the board approved a contract for Phases I and II of Benderson Park, which required the execution of an agreement specifically for a parking lot for attendees of events at the facility.

A graphic shows details about the parking lot that will be constructed at Benderson Park. Image courtesy Sarasota County

As a result of that agreement, the memo continues, “a parking area has been designed and will be constructed” at the northwest corner of the park. The county will not pay for the work, based on the documentation provided to the board. After the unpaved 500-space facility has been completed, the memo notes, however, the county will assume responsibility for the lot and associated landscaping. The memo notes that the estimate for that annual maintenance is $25,000.

“The goal is to complete the project in time for the 2017 World Rowing Championships,” the memo adds.

All the entities involved in the design and construction are linked to Benderson Development Co., based on a Sarasota News Leader check of their filings with the Florida Division of Corporations. Benderson Development itself is one of the eight limited liability companies in the list included in the July 11 memo to the County Commission.

The county also needed public access easements along the north frontage of the site of the lot to enable the construction to proceed, the memo pointed out. Those would come from Higbee Company and TB Mall at UTC. The Higbee Co. is a subsidiary of Dillard’s, which has a store at the Mall at University Town Center. TB Mall at UTC is an affiliate of Taubman Centers; the Mall at University Town Center is one of Taubman Centers’ properties, according to the Taubman website.

No monetary exchange would be involved, the memo said. Instead, “the County has agreed to convey a seasonal non-exclusive consideration for the construction of the parking lot.” The memo adds, “All legal and statutory requirements for this exchange have been met.”

Both the amended World Rowing Championships financial agreement and the parking lot construction agreement were included on the County Commission’s July 11 Consent Agenda of routine business items. Neither item was pulled by a board member for discussion before the unanimous vote on the Consent Agenda.