Friday, January 13, 2017

A citizen asks . . . Sarasota County and the Benderson Agreement

This request to Sarasota County for detailed information regarding commitments and funding for the rowing facility at Nathan Benderson Park is from a citizen, Pat Rounds:

To the Sarasota County Commission, SANCA and Benderson Foundation Officials: 

According to the $5+ million World Rowing Championships (WRC)/Bi-County Reimbursement Agreement signed in 2013, parties to the agreement, including SANCA, must comply with public meetings/open records law (See attached, Sect 3Q). SANCA is also required to provide quarterly updates on fund-raising for capital projects to the WRC Events Committee (See attached Sect. 3M--Fundraising). Requests for details about the time/place of WRC Events Committee meetings have gone unanswered.

In the last two years, I have requested updates from Sarasota County, SANCA (Paul Blackketter) and/or Benderson Corp. (Todd Mathes) regarding private/corporate funding for the construction of Phase III structures/Capital Projects at Benderson Rowing Park (e.g., state-of-the-art finish tower, boat house, grandstands, and other amenities). These structures were noted in a Sarasota County press release in early September, 2013 after Benderson Rowing Park was selected to host the 2017 WRC. (See statement from press release* at the end of this message.)

Other than a copy of an e-mail message (See attached Aug 4 email/2015) containing a pledge of funding for the finish tower, no Phase III/Capital Projects funding data have been provided. In response to my last public info request, I was told that SANCA officials would be presenting an update at a BoCC Meeting in late October, 2016.

Below is a link to the video of the BoCC Meeting on 10/25/16. Item #24 is a presentation by Messrs. Robinson and Sullivan of SANCA:

While various park-related issues were discussed, there was no mention about the status of private/corporate funding for Phase III structures. Please indicate where the Phase III fund-raising update is on the video tape.

In the 2013 bid package presented to the FISA/WRC site selection committee, an aerial-view graphic was shown depicting the rowing park which included a boat house projected to cost about $10 million. (See schematic below.) Over $40 public millions have been invested in ongoing park operations/management, WRC event prep, and FISA-approved infrastructure (Phases I/II) at Benderson Rowing Park in advance of the 2017 WRC (including a man-made regatta island).

A public/private partnership is only successful if both partners meet their obligations as pledged. The costs of Phase III structures have been estimated at up to $22 million. Thousands of international rowers and visitors are expected to participate and/or attend the WRC this fall. They expect and deserve to view the WRC at a premier rowing venue.

Nearly a year ago, SANCA Board Chair Bill Robinson noted the following in the Herald Tribune:
".....The finish tower project is estimated to be ready for use by the fall. The planning for the multi-purpose boat house is underway...."
Below, note the statement about the boathouse on the Nathan Benderson Park Foundation website:

The Boathouse, also designed by Guy Peterson, will be located on the south end of Regatta Island, opening out into the widest expanse of Nathan Benderson Park Lake. It will consist of two stories. The Boathouse will feature a variety of rowing and boating bays, supplemented by fitness facilities, dressing rooms, offices and more. The boathouse will commence construction in late 2015 and will be opened prior to the World Rowing Championships in 2017.
As of today, the finish tower is still under construction. There is no boat house, and the rickety grandstands seat about 150 spectators. (See photo below.) Any notion that temporary boat storage tents, grandstands, and rower changing rooms/shower facilities should suffice at a "world-class" venue chosen to host the prestigious World Rowing Championships is unacceptable. Not another nickel in public funding should be used or approved for Phase III structures.

Requests for information: 
  • How much private/corporate funding has been raised to complete the world-class structures depicted to win the bid to host the 2017 World Rowing Championships? 
  • When and where are the WRC Events Committee meetings held? Over $5 million in public revenue is being spent to host this event. Open meetings and public records statutes apply to this project and local residents should have a front row seat as plans are finalized for this international competition. 
  • Please provide evidence that FISA awarded the 2017 WRC to Benderson Rowing Park with the understanding that a permanent boathouse would be optional. Plovdiv, Bulgaria, the other venue competing for the 2017 WRC, already had a fully equipped rowing facility with permanent structures when a venue was selected in 2013. At the bottom of this message, note the boat house requirements for a major international rowing event listed in the 2010 FISA Manual**, Section B.7, starting on Page 100. A copy of the FISA Manual is available upon request. 
  • Please explain the meaning of the following statement below. It appears on P.23 in the Appendix of the attached Bi-County/SANCA WRC Reimbursement Agreement scribbled under the list of capital improvements, e.g, finish tower, boathouse, etc.: 
"SANCA and Benderson Development CCC shall have no obligation for these capital improvements."
It’s incomprehensible how a bid to host a major international rowing event could be submitted apparently without a binding agreement between local parties to deliver the requisite funding to complete the structures and improvements presented to the FISA/WRC site selection committee, the media, local residents, and the rowing world before the event. If Phase III funding goals have not been met, the private sector needs to step up now and finance the permanent structures depicted in the WRC bid presented by SANCA over three and a half years ago.

I hope to hear good news that funding goals have been met to construct a permanent boat house and grandstands in time for the 2017 WRC.

Your prompt response is appreciated.

Pat Rounds
District 1
Sarasota, FL 34235



*From a Sarasota County Press Release posted after FISA chose Benderson Rowing Park to host the 2017 WRC (Sept. 2, 2013):
"....More than $40 million in public and private-sector funds have been committed to help transform a former borrow pit into Nathan Benderson Park, the premier rowing venue in North America, capable of hosting an Olympic-caliber event. Sarasota County's investment, $19.5 million, comes from a Tourist Development Tax (TDT), which is paid by visitors to the area. Those funds have paid for Phase I (dredge and fill) and Phase II (installation of park amenities, hardscaping and landscaping). Phase III of the project, construction of a state-of-the-art boathouse, timing towers, grandstands and other amenities, will be funded by SANCA and corporate support..."

**From the FISA Manual, 2010, starting on P.100:

B.7. boathouse area - Team Facilities and Services
B.7.1. boathouse area »» Planning
• Permanent rowing venues are usually developed with at least basic permanent boat storage infrastructure.
• If canoeing is developed (or might be in the future), then the needs for both canoeing and rowing have to be accommodated.
• For major rowing events, much more extensive boat storage facilities need to be provided.
• The required space for the entire boathouse area (permanent and temporary) for a major rowing event is approximately 10,000m2.
• There should be adequate covered areas in and around the boathouse area for the Competitors to shelter in the event of rain.
• Olympic Games - in the preparation period before the rowing regatta and during the Olympic Games, separate boathouse facilities have to be provided for canoeing and rowing.
• A large, general storage area must be provided, at least 120m2.
• A high standard of security must be provided during the regatta events.
• A number of water supply points, clearly marked, should be provided for the Competitors where they can get safe and potable water for their water bottles and other larger containers.
• All Competitors’ areas must be clearly marked as non-smoking areas.
• When choosing the location of the permanent boathouse facilities the following conditions should be considered:
-- It is essential that there should be an easy and comfortable access to the boat storage area for the loading, unloading and movement of the boat trailers.
-- The terrain should be flat, or with a slope if possible of no more than 10°.
-- The terrain shouldn’t be slippery or if covered with gravel it should be well stamped. It is important that the ground conditions can remain usable even in heavy rain.
-- Provisions to be made for the facilities to be used by adaptive rowers.

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