President of SANCA resigns

Herrera-Mishler said he wishes to pursue other professional activities

This banner remained on the Nathan Benderson Park website as of the morning of Sept. 9, six days after the announcement of Herrera-Mishler’s resignation. Image from the Benderson Park website

Just after 6 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 3, the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates Inc. (SANCA), which manages Sarasota County’s Nathan Benderson Park, announced that its president and CEO, Tomas Herrera-Mishler, had resigned.

“He wishes to pursue other professional activities,” a news release said. Herrera-Mishler thanked the SANCA board “for its dedication in supporting the organization during this past year of unprecedented challenges, and he graciously agreed to be available for consultation as he transitions to his new activities,” the release added.

Herrera-Mishler “demonstrated great dedication to the organization and to Nathan Benderson Park,” the release continued. “We wish Tomas much success as he moves forward, and good health for him and his family,” it said.

Herrera-Mishler was named president and CEO of SANCA in August 2020. During a January presentation to the county’s Tourist Development Council (TDC), he pointed out that he actually had returned to Sarasota after being away for many years. He started his career as a landscape architect in Florida, he explained, and one of his projects was the master plan for The Ringling Museum of Art.

He then moved into the tourist destination planning industry, Herrera-Mishler continued, and later transitioned into urban design.

Before joining SANCA, he was CEO of the Balboa Park Conservancy in San Diego, Herrera-Mishler added. The Conservancy oversees 17 museums, as well as “the world-famous San Diego Zoo.”

This is the SANCA Board of Directors. Image from the Benderson Park website

The Sept. 3 press release noted that SANCA’s chief operating officer, Stephen V. Rodriguez, will serve as interim CEO. “Stephen will also continue to lead operations at Nathan Benderson Park as it enters a new fiscal year of major events and programs for the entire community,” the release said. “This will be an exciting year,” the release pointed out, starting with the U.S. Dragon Boat Federation Club Crew National Championships, which are scheduled for Oct. 1-3.

During the January presentation to the TDC, Rodriguez joined Herrera-Mishler in reporting that Benderson Park lost about $19 million last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In its formal report to Sarasota County on the 2020 fiscal year, SANCA said it took in $2,890,969 in revenue and spent $2,461,949. Of the latter funds, 28% went to maintenance, 32% to personnel, 17% to administration and operations, and 7% to marketing and development, a pie chart showed.

From 2014 through 2020, the annual report said, the county invested $29,616,739 in Nathan Benderson Park. Over the same period of time, the report added, SANCA’s economic impact on the county, and its investment in capital improvements, totaled $195,449,973.

SANCA’s goal is to provide a minimum annual economic impact of $20 million to the county, Rodriguez pointed out to the TDC members in January. In 2020, the figure ended up being $8,593,812, according to data compiled by Visit Sarasota County, the county’s tourism office.

This chart in SANCA’s report to Sarasota County for the 2020 fiscal year shows the economic impact of the events conducted. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Additionally, in March, the County Commission agreed to a lower payment to SANCA for the current fiscal year, which will end on Sept. 30, as well as for the 2022 fiscal year, which will begin Oct. 1.

On Jan. 15, 2020, the County Commission had approved an updated and restated licensing and operating agreement with SANCA, which called for the county to reimburse the nonprofit’s operating expenses up to $1,189,480 on an annual basis. However, the March 9 amendment to that agreement noted that “the COVID-19 pandemic has had a detrimental and yet-unmeasurable financial and economic impact on organizations and industry both public and private …”

Therefore, the amendment continued, on May 29, 2020, the county had issued a letter to SANCA, informing it that, because of those anticipated financial consequences of the pandemic, including staff projections for lower revenue collections, the county was decreasing the SANCA payment to $980,131 for the 2021 fiscal year.

The amendment did say that the county would reimburse SANCA up to $1,261,919.33 during the 2022 fiscal year.

Herrera-Mishler signed the amended agreement on Aug. 21, 2020, the document showed.

This pie chart in SANCA’s 2020 fiscal year report to the county shows the breakdown of its expenses for that year. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In January, Herrera-Mishler told the TDC members that Benderson Park has come far “from a humble beginning as a borrow pit with some great fishing … to one of the world’s great rowing venues.” Benderson Park is No. 1 in North America, he said, while it is “in the top 3 in the world.”

Benderson Park not only hosts regional, national and international rowing competitions, Herrera-Mishler continued, but it also draws other types of events, such as triathlons.