Robert Sullivan and County Administrator Tom Harmer assure the board that the money is available for that key piece of infrastructure for the World Rowing Championships
With 305 days to go from Nov. 22 to the opening of the World Rowing Championships on Sept. 23, 2017 at Nathan Benderson Park, the new CEO of the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates (SANCA) told the Sarasota County Commission this week that the finish tower is expected to be completed in January or February 2017.
The five-story building will house electronics used in timing events at the park, as well as the SANCA offices, an observation platform, public restrooms and a welcome center, according to the park’s website.
Designed by Sarasota architect Guy Peterson, the tower has been considered a key piece of infrastructure for the World Championships.
When newly sworn-in Commissioner Nancy Detert asked SANCA CEO Robert Sullivan on Nov. 22, “Do you have the money to finish the tower?” Sullivan replied that, from what he understood, the money is available from the nonprofit foundation established to help fund facilities at the park.
After Detert asked the total cost of the finish tower and how much money exactly was available from the foundation, Sullivan told her he did not have those numbers. He promised to provide them later that day. (The Sarasota News Leader requested a copy of them, but it had not been provided as of the publication’s deadline this week.)
County Administrator Tom Harmer explained that, as part of the county’s oversight of the park, a performance bond had to be posted before construction of the tower began. That “should fully fund the improvements,” Harmer added.
A document Harmer signed on behalf of the county on Jan. 25 says SANCA had obtained a payment and performance bond in the amount of $5,860,771.50 for the project.
In March, Harmer told attendees at the annual meeting of the Siesta Key Association (SKA) that the family of the late developer Nathan Benderson — for whom the park near University Parkway is named — contributed “almost $6 million” to enable the finish tower to be built on time for the 2017 World Rowing Championships.
SANCA manages events at the park.
Sullivan also told the board on Nov. 22 that SANCA staff is marketing the tower for various types of events and that some already have been booked, beginning in April 2017. SANCA is “looking at a full gamut of activities” in the facility after it has been completed, he said.
In other news during his monthly report to the commission, Sullivan noted that the new playground opened on Nov. 4. “It’s well used,” he added.
The park’s fall newsletter says the playground has a rubberized ground covering and structures for various ages. Shade trees surround it, and it is in close proximity to the new restrooms, the newsletter notes.
During her part of the Nov. 22 update, Meredith Scerba, executive director of the World Rowing Championships, said 13 teams have been confirmed for the 2017 event, although a total of 27 have provided verbal commitments. No team is considered committed to the event until after she and her staff have received its deposit, she pointed out.
Among the confirmed teams are the ones from Great Britain, Australia, Germany and Canada, along with the U.S. rowers, she said.
During the Nov. 17 Tourist Development Council (TDC) meeting in Sarasota, Kelly Defebo, director of sales for Visit Sarasota County, reported that the Visit Sarasota County staff had been working with a United Kingdom tour operator to market the 2017 World Rowing Championships packages to the United Kingdom (UK) team members and visitors. Two large UK groups have booked rooms at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota, Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, added.
In fact, Haley continued, Sir David Tanner, British Rowing’s performance director — “the very famous coach,” as Haley described him — was in Sarasota that week, “securing all of [the team’s] other needs.” That included finding a dry cleaning firm that could handle picking up 200 pieces of clothing each evening at 7 p.m. and returning them early the next morning, she said.
“It is a huge piece of business for this [small business owner] that we weren’t even participating,” she told the council members.
Referencing the TDC meeting discussion, Hines asked Scerba on Nov. 22 to provide details about team and other bookings in the future when she makes her monthly reports to the commission.
The World Rowing Championships staff perspective
During her remarks this week, Scerba pointed out that fundraising for the 2017 event has accelerated, with sponsorship packages ranging from $5,000 to $750,000 and the three community co-chairs — U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan (in an honorary role); Ed Chiles, CEO of The Chiles Group; and Rod Hershberger, CEO and chair of PGT Industries — have been sending out letters seeking support.
Additionally, a national ticket marketing campaign is underway, she said, offering 15% off packages and merchandise during the holiday season.
She attended USRowing’s Golden Oars Awards Dinner in New York City last week, she continued, where the 2017 event was the focal point, with the 2016 Summer Olympics having concluded. She said she expects a major jump in ticket sales because of the enthusiasm expressed at the Golden Oars gathering about the fact that this will be the first time the United States has hosted the Championships since 1994.
Incentives also are being provided to all levels of rowing teams — even those at high schools — to help sell tickets, she noted.
As she reported last month, Scerba reminded the board, “One big push right now is becoming a volunteer.” She needs more than 2,000 to assist in a variety of roles, she added. Anyone who is interested in helping greet teams at the airport or hotels, for example, or helping out during special events associated with the Championships, may sign up online and choose the days, shifts and jobs they prefer, she said. The website is wrch2017.com.