Trail at Benderson Park to be renamed Bill Robinson Lakeside Loop

SANCA board requested the action as a memorial to its late chair

This graphic shows the trail around Benderson Park. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Given the need for compliance with the process outlined in the Sarasota County Code, it took a few months for a proposal related to Benderson Park to reach the point of approval.

Nonetheless, that approval was unanimous on Aug. 26, with Commissioner Nancy Detert making the motion and Commissioner Alan Maio seconding it.

Maio was the board member who raised the issue in March. As the commission’s liaison on the board of directors of the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates (SANCA), he reported on a unanimous vote of that board to create a memorial for long-time SANCA Chair Bill Robinson, who had died.

“He was a very big leader [for SANCA],” Maio said.

Robinson was owner of Fit2Run, which has stores in the area — including downtown Sarasota.

Everyone on the SANCA board thought the paved running/walking trail around Benderson Park should be renamed the Bill Robinson Lakeside Loop, Maio continued on March 10.

County Administrator Jonathan Lewis reminded the commissioners that day that the county has an ordinance governing the process for naming county facilities. Staff would have to adhere to those guidelines, Lewis added.

The commissioners gave staff the go-ahead to begin that effort.

Their Aug. 26 agenda item was listed as a “Presentation Upon Request,” but no commissioner asked for staff comments, and no member of the public had signed up to speak about it.

Bill Robinson addresses the County Commission on behalf of SANCA in October 2016. File photo

In making the motion to name the park’s trail in memory of Robinson, Detert noted that Nicole Rissler, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources (PRNR) Department, had met individually with Detert and her colleagues in advance of the Aug. 26 meeting to discuss the agenda item. “I’m happy,” Detert added, to make the motion. “Staff did a good job, and I’m very pleased with the naming.”

Commissioner Charles Hines remarked on Robinson’s leadership on the SANCA board, noting that Robinson stabilized that board’s operations. “This is a good dedication.”
“Can’t agree more,” Chair Michael Moran said.

On March 4, Stephen V. Rodriguez, then-president and CEO of SANCA and now chief operating officer, wrote a letter to Rissler of PRNR, pointing out that Robinson was the original chair of SANCA “when it began operations of Nathan Benderson Park in 2014.”
Although the county owns the park, SANCA, a nonprofit, manages the park and events at the facilities through an agreement with the county.

“Mr. Robinson served [as chair of SANCA] until 2018,” Rodriguez continued in the letter. At that time, Robinson “took a leave of absence for health reasons. After a battle with cancer that lasted over a year,” Rodriguez wrote, “Bill passed this year. His dedicated service to SANCA as well as countless hours he spent at [Benderson Park], supporting the activities at the park, is deserving of this commemoration and a display of appreciation for his many contributions to the success of this Sarasota County asset.” (See the related article in this issue.)

Rodriguez continued, “Bill Robinson had a passion for sport, health and wellness and therefore SANCA believes it be fitting to name the … running trail the Bill Robinson Lakeside Loop.”

A county staff memo provided to the commissioners in advance of the Aug. 26 meeting pointed out that Chapter 2, Article I, Section 2-2 of the Sarasota County Code “includes the process for the naming of County-owned property and facilities.” The memo added, “[I]t is solely within the [commission’s] discretion to determine the appropriate name for County-owned property and facilities.”

Under the guidelines of that ordinance, the memo said, a Name Selection Committee met on Aug. 4 to review two submittals for the Benderson Park trail: Bill Robinson Lakeside Loop and Calusa Trail.

Part of the trail at Benderson Park is parallel to North Cattlemen Road. File photo

That committee had to comprise representatives of “Business Center Units with an interest in the property to be named and at least one Sarasota County resident from the community at large,” the staff memo pointed out. In response to a public records request, The Sarasota News Leader learned that the committee members were Assistant County Administrator Brad Johnson; Michelle Stanley, chair of the county’s Parks Advisory and Recreation Council; and Rissler, director of PRNR.

On June 3, the memo continued, staff authorized the advertisement of a Notice of Intent to name the paved trail that circles the lake at Benderson Park. That ad, which the County Code required, was published on June 6, the memo said. It also solicited names for the park, with a July 7 deadline.