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Sarasota Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019 3 weeks ago

Commissioners put a hold on pool lease with Sarasota Sharks

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The lease would allow the Sharks to maintain control of the Selby Aquatic Center for up to the next 30 years.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

Although Sarasota YMCA members came to an agreement that would keep both its fitness centers open, questions still remain of who will control Selby Aquatic Center. 

The Sarasota Sharks have run the Olympic-sized pool and attached water park since early 2018, when the club assumed control through a contract with the Y to keep the facility open at Potter Park. The Y had run the county-owned pool and its facilities since 1998.

Now with new arrangements being set up with the Y to keep its fitness centers running with new management, the Sharks are seeking to extend the club’s agreement to operate the pool. Sharks Head Coach Brent Arckey said if the contract were to be approved, it would provide the 250 youth and 100 masters swimmers a more permanent home.

“Having that stability would be amazing,” Arckey said. “While there are a lot of Sharks here a lot of the time, we want everyone to know we still view [Selby Aquatic Center] as a community piece.”

The lease agreement would allow the nonprofit Sharks to remain in control for $10 per year for 10 years with an option to renew twice for a total of 30 years.

The county would support the Sharks with a $180,000 subsidy a year, to increase 3% annually. Arckey said these funds would largely go to operational costs for the water park and services for the county’s summer camp.

If the contract lasts its total potential of 30 years, the county would end up paying $436,907 to the Sharks in its 30th year, or about $8.8 million over the course of 30 years, which drew some concern from Commissioner Nancy Detert at the County Commission meeting Tuesday.

She, like various public speakers, also expressed concerns that other groups wouldn’t be given the same opportunities.

“Use by other groups needs to be considered,” Detert said. “Our impulse was to jump in and help the Sharks, and these other groups came along that I was unaware of, frankly.”

One such group was Southwest Florida Water Polo Foundation, which has been looking for a permanent home for its members

Several members of that organization expressed frustration that their attempts to secure practice time at Selby Aquatic Center were met unfairly.

Foundation President Beth Bailey said the organization’s request to rent time at the center was met with “predatory pricing” that would typically be offered for commercial use, not for nonprofit use. She said the Sharks offered two hours of pool rental a day, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., when most of the organization’s 60 athletes are in school.

“The Sharks are the incumbent tenant, but that doesn’t mean they’re the right fit to run the whole aquatic center,” Bailey said.

Bailey and other polo foundation board members suggested a different model for the aquatic center, one where no one group can control when and for what price other organizations can practice in the center.

“The philosophy should be like that of a library: to get the most amount of resources in the hands of the most amount of people,” Shirley Birkett said. “All the groups that would like to use the facility and get benefits from it should have equal access, and no one group should dictate to the others how much time or when the time should be.”

Commission Chairman Charles Hines expressed concerns that the county wouldn’t have a say in pricing, but Commissioner Alan Maio said  evening and weekend times need to be offered to programs with student participants.

Arckey, however, said that over the past 20 years, the Sharks have tried to be good community partners and will continue to do so.

“We are more than happy to welcome other aquatic groups here that want to rent space, as long as it’s a fair market price,” Arckey said. “We still have to run a business here. We have to make sure that none of this interferes with our main revenue stream, which is competitive swimming.”

The commissioners, who were supposed to vote on the agreement Tuesday, held their decision until September, so they have more time to look over the lease.

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