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Sarasota Wednesday, May 8, 2019 2 weeks ago

Commission backs away from convention center consideration

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Commissioners noted that the idea was not sustainable "this year" in specific.
by: Samantha Chaney Staff Writer

Despite identifying the potential development of a county convention or muti-use facility as a 2019 priority late last year, County Commissioners declined Wednesday to explore further action on the topic.

According to county documents, staff members have worked since the annual December board retreat in 2018 to compile basic data on other conference centers in Florida. Administrators then shared that information in a memo on March 6, prior to bringing it before the commission on May 8.

But, after sharing detailed information on several of those centers — among them were the Bradenton Area Convention Center and Charlotte Harbor Event and Conference Center — Deputy County Administrator Steve Botelho posed a single question to commissioners: What would the county’s role be in the conference center?

Commissioners didn’t have a concrete answer. Instead, they determined that the county’s funds would be best spent elsewhere.

“There’s always been this on and off again conversation that this county is missing this kind of center,” Commission Chair Charles Hines said. “But considering all the other things we have on our plate right now … I’m struggling to ask our staff to spend more time on this.”

Commissioners Nancy Detert and Christian Ziegler echoed Hines’s thoughts, confirming their belief that the county does not currently have the “bandwidth” to deal with a new convention center on top of its other priorities.

“Previous commissions wrestled with this … I agree with Commissioner Hines that the time is not right this year to do that,” Detert said. “We need to protect our infrastructure, make sure we’re not rotting at the core in water quality and air quality.”

Detert also added that Manatee’s convention center, which was constructed in 1985, never became “a money-maker,” and that to try one here might not be worth the risk.

The one exception they might make, however, would be if the private sector decided to get involved.

“Unless the private sector — like a large hotel, large or stand-alone company — comes forward, I’m not interested in us putting time aside like Manatee did on county-owned property,” Hines said.

“I am incredibly eager to hear from the private sector,” Commissioner Mike Moran said. “They’d be pleasantly surprised on what they’d hear from this board, I think … I hope the private sector is listening closely. I’m interested in what they have to say.”

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