After receiving assurance from a Benderson Development representative that the firm would not seek more than the $19.5 million in tourist development tax revenue Sarasota County already has committed to the project, the County Commission Tuesday unanimously approved design changes proposed for the Nathan Benderson Nature Aquatic Center near University Parkway.
“We’re not here to ask for any more money,” Paul Blackketter, Benderson’s project manager, responded to a question from County Commissioner Christine Robinson. Benderson Development will pursue the rest of the approximately $40 million cost of the facilities through state and federal grant options as well as private funding, he added.
Commission Chairwoman Nora Patterson told her fellow commissioners she had asked Blackketter the same question in her office before the Tuesday afternoon session, “but not as nicely (as Robinson).”
He was confident about completing the park’s amenities, Blackketter said, and holding the first national regatta there next year, with the first world rowing championships potentially held there in 2017.
County project manager Spencer Anderson explained Tuesday that international rowing officials had suggested specific design changes to the concept the commission had approved in January. Among those is an “island return canal,” which would provide rowing teams an uninterrupted route to return to their staging area after an event.
Blackketter said the designers had struggled with creating a plan that would enable the rowers to get back to the staging area quickly enough so the next event could start in five minutes. An architect with FISA, the international rowing federation, had suggested the change after a two-day visit to the park, he said.
With that canal, he said, the facility “will stand side-by-side with the best rowing courses in the world.”
“When we’re done with this, this is obviously going to be state-of-the-art,” County Commissioner Joe Barbetta said.