County administrator gives Siesta Key audience an update on Benderson Park projects in preparation for the 2017 World Rowing Championships
The family of the late developer Nathan Benderson — for whom Sarasota County’s Benderson Park is named — has contributed “almost $6 million” for the construction of the Finish Tower the park needs to host the 2017 World Rowing Championships, County Administrator Tom Harmer announced during a March 5 meeting on Siesta Key.
Randy Benderson, Nathan’s son, is president of Benderson Development Co., which has partnered with Sarasota County on the improvements to the venue near the Manatee County line. Randy Benderson also is chair of the Nathan Benderson Community Park Foundation, whose mission — according to the park’s website — “is to raise funds for the completion of all of the capital improvements [at the venue], along with the establishment and maintenance of a permanent endowment to support the [park’s] operations in perpetuity.”
During the 2014 and 2015 sessions of the Florida Legislature, representatives of Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Inc. (SANCA), the nonprofit organization that manages events at Benderson Park, were unsuccessful in winning any funding to help with construction of amenities before the 2017 event. This year, the Legislature included a $2.5-million allocation in the budget, which Gov. Rick Scott reportedly has no plans to veto. Scott has visited Benderson Park several times in the past to tout the venue’s potential as the host of an increasing number of national and international competitions.
A Capital Improvement Authorization document Harmer signed on Jan. 25 says SANCA has obtained a payment and performance bond in the amount of $5,860,771.50 for the Finish Tower project. That document also notes that “Naming Rights Subject to County Approval.”
In his original presentation to the county’s Tourist Development Council (TDC) regarding the facilities Benderson Park would need for the World Rowing Championships, Paul Blackketter, now president of SANCA, reported that a three-story finish line tower, which would contain timing equipment and space for the referees and the news media, would have to be built. A basic structure, he added, would cost $800,000. However, he told the TDC members, the goal was to erect a bigger structure that would be capable of multiple uses. That version could cost up to $2 million, he pointed out.
That meeting was conducted on Jan. 17, 2013. It also was the first public opportunity for county leaders to hear about plans for the effort to win the World Rowing Championships bid. At the time, Blackketter was executive director of planning for Benderson Development.
During the March 5 Annual Breakfast Meeting of the Siesta Key Association (SKA), Harmer was providing an update about various facets of county operations when he mentioned the Benderson family contribution for the Finish Tower. He added that plans remain underway for the construction of a boathouse for the park, which possibly could be completed before the World Championships. Blackketter has told numerous groups over the past several years that he has visited similar facilities around the world. His goal, he has pointed out, has been to help fine-tune the design for the Benderson Park boathouse, which also has been envisioned as a venue that can host a wide range of meetings. The latter aspect of the design is key to bringing in additional revenue for park operations.
Further on March 5, Harmer noted that Benderson Park will host the 2018 World Rowing Masters Regatta, “which is an even bigger event, with about 3,500 competitors from all over the world.” Additionally, the park will host the U.S. Olympic Rowing Team Trials next month (April 17-24), he said, noting that USRowing has called the venue the No. 1 facility in the United States. “We believe, with the build-out, it’ll be the top 1 or 2 in the world,” Harmer told the SKA audience.
The county has committed $19.5 million to improvements at the park, the county website says, with the County Commission having approved a detailed master plan in July 2010.
Before the county purchased the property, the site served as a shell excavation pit for road construction fill, the website notes.
In regard to the Finish Tower, the Nathan Benderson Park Spring 2016 newsletter says the multi-purpose building is scheduled to be completed this fall. The newsletter calls it “an elegant four-story structure designed by renowned Sarasota architect Guy Peterson, in conjunction with Fawley-Bryant Architects …” The document adds that the tower “will house park offices, event officials, and media and will feature meeting rooms, community space, and decks with commanding views of the entire park and surrounding countryside.”
The original application for the project permit was submitted to Sarasota County on June 29, 2015. It called for a five-story concrete, masonry and glass building “with interior improvements” designed to withstand wind speed of 116 mph. At that time, the estimated cost of the Finish Tower was $3 million, the application shows. The contractor was listed as Peter J. Hayes, doing business as Tandem Construction of Sarasota. However, on Jan. 6, Blackketter, of SANCA, signed a form terminating that contract and saying Benderson Development would handle the construction.
When Salvatore DePaolis, a review engineer with the county’s Land Development office, signed off on the project on Jan. 26, the letter he sent to Clint Cuffle of Water Resource Associates in University Park also points out that, prior to or concurrent with other “site and development submittals” for Benderson Park, the “developer shall improve the existing right-in/right-out, left-in only intersection of the access driveway on Honore Avenue to allow unrestricted turning movements at the access location.” The document adds that the improvements “shall be included in the future construction plans” for development at the park, including the boathouse, a playground and more restrooms.
Water Resource Associates is listed in county permitting documents as the engineer for the Finish Tower project.
Blackketter was scheduled to make a presentation to the county’s Tourist Development Council during its regular meeting on March 17 in Sarasota, which occurred after The Sarasota News Leader’s deadline.