Sunday, March 19, 2017

"Not one more public nickel": Pat Rounds seeks Public Info on Benderson Costs

To the Sarasota County Commission, Nathan Benderson Park Foundation, and SANCA:

On January 18, 2017, Michael Bennett made an appeal to the local state legislative delegation on behalf of the Nathan Benderson Park Foundation for an additional $5 million in state funding for a permanent boat house at Benderson Rowing Park---this handsome sum on top of an initial $10 million in state grants for rowing park Phase I/II infrastructure, and another $2.5 million granted last year. In all, well over $40 public millions have been invested in this park for infrastructure, operations/management, and event hosting expenses for the World Rowing Championships (WRC) this fall.  This total includes over $20 million from Sarasota County. 

According to a Sarasota County press release (Sept, 2013): 
"...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..." 
Estimated costs of Phase III construction have been up to $22 million. But despite nearly two years of submitting public information requests to Sarasota County, Benderson Park Foundation and SANCA for status updates on private/corporate funding for Phase III structures, the sole document provided has been the attached "Aug 4 email" - a 2015 Benderson Foundation commitment to fund the finish tower (estimated to cost about $5 million). 

So imagine my surprise to see Mr. Michael Bennett on video last month telling local state legislators that $15 million has been raised in "private money" for Benderson Rowing Park. For your reference, a link to the video of the Legislative Priorities Input Session held on January 18, 2017 in the chambers of the Sarasota County Commission is at the end of this message. 

Mr. Bennett appears at 28:40 on the tape, and states: 
'....When you look at the money that we've gotten from the State of Florida, from Sarasota County and Manatee County over the years...$5 million will complete our boathouse.  We have raised about $15 million in private money, and through the foundation we will continue to fund it.....'

Really?  How is it that Mr. Bennett's recent appeal for more state funding divulges private funding figures that haven't been disclosed after months of public info requests? According to the attached 2013 Bi-County WRC Reimbursement Agreement (3Q: Public Records/Open Meetings), SANCA and Sarasota County agreed to comply with F.S.119.  Doesn't adherence to F.S.119 require some transparency?

Rowing Park March 21, 2017

Requests for Public Information:
  • Please provide evidence that $15 million has been raised in "private money" for Benderson Rowing Park. 
  • Please indicate where/how this $15 million has been spent or allocated---beyond funding of the finish tower.  
  • Please indicate the significance of the hand-scribbled statement made on Page 23 of the 2013 Bi-County WRC Reimbursement Agreement--a page from a WRC bid questionnaire listing the provisional budget for capital improvements (including a boat house)
"SANCA and Benderson Development CCC shall have no obligation for these capital improvements."  
If $15 million in "private money" has been raised, Benderson Rowing Park shouldn't need another $5 million in state grants for a boat house. Simple math would suggest that beyond the $5 million spent on the finish tower, there should be another $10 million in "private money" available to fund a permanent boat house and maybe even permanent grandstands.  (Mr. Bennett said that $5 million would complete the boat house, after all.)

SANCA/corporate support should fund Phase III structures as promoted over three years ago.  Not one more public nickel should be granted for this venue until that happens. The State of Florida, Sarasota County and Manatee County have contributed more than their share to this "public/private partnership".  

HB 2161 has recently been introduced in the FL House to fund another $5 million for a boat house at Benderson Rowing Park.  (Also see below.) Since $15 million has been raised in "private money," there is no reason why "public money" should fund a boat house, grandstands or anything else. 

Also, please forward this message to officials at Nathan Benderson Park Foundation, as their newly updated website contains no e-Mail addresses. Speaking of which, the website has new renderings of the future boathouse. The text printed under a previous boathouse rendering has been removed.
See text under the website's former boathouse rendering. Note the timetable and the link between boathouse construction and the World Rowing Championships:   
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.

Please attach this public information request to any official responses.


Pat Rounds
Sarasota, FL


Letter to County Administrator Tom Harmer from Todd M. Mathes:

F L O R I D A H O U S E  O F  R E P R E S E N T A T I V E S

A bill to be entitled 
1An act relating to the Appropriations Project titled 2 Nathan Benderson Community Park Boathouse 3 Construction; providing an appropriation; providing an 4 effective date.
Be It Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida: 7
8Section 1. Nathan Benderson Community Park Boathouse 9 Construction is an Appropriations Project as defined in The 10 Rules of The Florida House of Representatives and is described 11 in Appropriations Project Request 247, herein incorporated by 12 reference. 13
Section 2. For fiscal year 2017-2018 the nonrecurring sum 14 of $5,000,000 from the General Revenue Fund is appropriated to 15 the Department of Economic Opportunity to fund the Nathan 16 Benderson Community Park Boathouse Construction as described in 17 Appropriations Project Request 247. Notwithstanding any law to 18 the contrary, there shall be no recurring funding provided for 19 this Appropriations Project. 20
Section 3. This act shall take effect July 1, 2017.


For more history of the Benderson Rowing Park, see this piece from the Herald Tribune, Oct. 7, 2015.

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