Benderson Park Foundation has to consult with Sarasota County staff about spending the $2.5 million grant it received from the state, parks director says

County’s World Rowing Championships financial commitment capped at $2,782,000, with any net revenue going to SANCA

The World Rowing Championships website featured this banner on June 29. Image from

Since the day she was sworn in as a member of the board — on Nov. 22, 2016 — Commissioner Nancy Detert has raised questions about finances of the World Rowing Championships and the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates Inc. (SANCA), which manages the county-owned Nathan Benderson Park.

Last week, as the board addressed budget issues for the 2018 fiscal year, Detert questioned Carolyn N. Brown, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, and Rob Lewis, director of community and intergovernmental relations for the county, about how a $2.5-million grant from the state will be used for the World Rowing Championships, which will be held in late September at the park.

Detert also sought details about the county’s financing of the World Rowing Championships.

Lewis acknowledged on June 20 that the language in the bill filed to seek the $2.5-million appropriation from the 2017 Florida Legislature was “very limited.” His understanding, he continued, was that the funds would go to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and then to the Nathan Benderson Park Community Foundation. Details from the foundation about specific plans for the money would be provided to the state, he added, and then the money would be allocated for those purposes, as he understood the situation. “I’m waiting to see what the language looks like in the proposed agreement.”

Chair Paul Caragiulo and Commissioners Nancy Detert and Charles Hines listen to discussion during the June 20 budget workshop. Rachel Hackney photo

Because the county owns Benderson Park, County Administrator Tom Harmer explained, staff will review plans for use of the funds as they are finalized.

Detert responded that she would like to see those details. “Otherwise, it’s a workaround around us.”

The foundation, according to its website, has the mission of raising funds “for the completion of all of the capital improvements at the Community Park, along with the establishment and maintenance of a permanent endowment to support the Community Park’s operations in perpetuity.”

When Brown was making her budget presentation the following day, June 21, Detert asked whether she had more information about the $2.5 million.

Staff has sent confirmation to SANCA, Brown said, explaining that it is essential for the county to “approve any and all items” on the list for use of the money. If any permanent facilities are planned, Brown added, SANCA would need the county’s approval before erecting them.

Commissioner Charles Hines indicated his understanding that the funds will pay primarily for temporary structures — seating and tents, for example — needed for the World Rowing Championships. “Hopefully, some of ’em will become permanent.”

Who pays for what?

Detert also questioned Brown on June 21 about how much money the county is spending on the World Rowing Championships.

Both Sarasota County and Manatee County have committed to pay up to $2,782,000 each for the event, Brown told Detert. “We’ve paid some of that already.”

As a result, Brown pointed out, the operating expenses for the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources budget will fall by $2.3 million in the 2018 fiscal year, with the World Rowing Championships (WRC) completed. The event will begin on Sept. 23 and end on Oct. 1. The fiscal year will begin on Oct. 1.

A clause in the 2013 contract explains part of the reimbursement process. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Brown also stressed that the $2,782,000 is coming out of Tourist Development Tax revenue — the “bed tax” income the county receives — and not the county’s General Fund, which largely is made up of property tax revenue.

“The World Rowing Championships event is a quite large and extensive event,” Brown continued. “It’s costing millions of dollars to orchestrate.” Sponsorships and ticket sales revenue are expected to help offset the costs, she noted.

(Multiple ticket options are available through the event website.)

“Do we anticipate any revenue coming back our way?” Detert asked.

The World Rowing Championships website features this graphic with event details and ticket information. Image from

“It’s kind of soon to know what the overall outcome will be,” Brown replied.

If the county funding and the revenue raised by the WRC does not pay for all of the expenses, Harmer explained, the costs “would be addressed through the foundation, and not by the counties.”

The agreement signed by then-Sarasota County Commission Chair Carolyn Mason on Sept. 4, 2013, says that neither Sarasota County nor Manatee County will pay more than $2,782,000 for “Reimbursable Costs for the Event, including application, planning, hosting and staging.”

The Benderson Park Foundation website listed these donor opportunities in September 2016. Image from the website

The agreement adds that, upon the conclusion of the World Rowing Championships, any funds remaining in the account for the event set up by SANCA “shall be used first to repay to Sarasota County and Manatee County, on a 50-50 basis …” Moreover, if a summary of the amounts paid by each county shows any disparity between those payments, the agreement says, then any net revenues going to the counties will be divided to correct that disparity.

If any profit is left after all payments have been made, the agreement continues, SANCA may transfer the funds to its general operating account for the operation of Benderson Park.

“Do we anticipate a profit?” Detert asked Brown on June 21. “I don’t.”

“It would be hard to say that would happen,” Brown told her. “We’re still in the midst of determining how that turns out.”

The permitted expenses for the event, according to the agreement, are the actual cost of planning, staging and hosting the World Rowing Championships; the actual cost of promoting the event; and the actual costs of procuring insurance for the event, “including without limitation insurance or other financial instruments protecting against currency fluctuations …”

More teams booked

A late May chart shows the hotels booked as of that time. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Commissioner Hines also told his colleagues on June 21 that while attending a function the previous evening, he had talked with a young man hired to help with security for the World Rowing Championships. The man had told him that more than 60 teams have been in contact with the event staff about securing hotel rooms. Hines added that that “was a really good sign that the teams are coming here.”
“They absolutely are,” Brown responded.

In response to a question from The Sarasota News Leader, Max Winitz, media and public relations manager for the World Rowing Championships, wrote in a June 29 email that 47 countries have been booked into hotels for the event. “We are in touch with another 40 countries that have not yet booked a hotel stay,” he added. “My understanding is that many of those 40 countries still haven’t figured out which athletes will be participating yet, which is why they still haven’t booked.”

“It will be an interesting, unfolding drama,” Detert summed it up on June 21.