A proposal would dedicate 5% of the Tourist Development Tax to sports tourism.
In recent years, Sarasota County has placed an importance on investing in sports tourism with new construction, such as Nathan Benderson Park and the Atlanta Braves CoolToday Park, and commissioners hope to keep the money flowing.
On May 4, commissioners unanimously voted to begin the process to set aside a pot of money annually to create a reserve for sports tourism. Five percent of the county’s tourist development tax, more commonly referred to as the bed tax, would be dedicated to sports tourism under the plan.
The commitment means that if the TDT were to collect $20 million, $1 million would be dedicated to sports tourism.
Director of Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Nicole Rissler said the county has shown “tremendous growth” in sports tourism within the past 10 years, but it still has more to do.
Despite COVID-19, the county had an economic impact from sports events of $110 million in 2020. As of April 16 of this year, the county has seen more than $53 million in economic impact.
In April, the board approved a proposed $117 million overhaul to north county facilities in an effort to attract more tourism.
However, Rissler said it takes more than good facilities to attract tourism dollars.
“The investment made in sports tourism facilities here in Sarasota County is only as good as the ability to market and provide grant dollars and competitive programs to secure those events and truly get the return on investment we all want,” Rissler said.
To be able to bid on major international events, funding must be available years in advance. A fund balance, Rissler said, is crucial to allow the county to implement a 10-year event plan.
Commissioners also agreed to the creation of a sports tourism liaison position with the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department. Marketing for sports tourism, however, will still be done by Visit Sarasota County.
Commissioner Ron Cutsinger was enthusiastic about the project and the prospects it would bring to the county.
“This would allow us to take those reserves and build them up so that when we do have a very large event, those funds will be available,” Cutsinger said. “We won’t be scurrying around trying to figure out how we can fund it.”
However, not all commissioners were immediately on board. Commissioner Nancy Detert expressed concerns with setting aside funds for one specific group. Instead she questioned whether a portion of the TDT could be put in a reserve event fund that could be used for a variety of events such as athletic competitions, concerts and festivals.
“When you start cutting up the pie and certain people have a guaranteed revenue stream no matter whether they’re good, bad or ugly or have any projects or don’t, that flow of money is going to continue to them and everybody else is going to fight for all the other pennies,” Detert said.
Rissler said the funding would not be for a specific entity, just for sports purposes overall. Still, Detert said the county already funds a number of sports-related activities, and she was hesitant to further target sports over other things.
Despite Detert’s concern, the commission unanimously directed Rissler to proceed. She now will draft an amendment to the TDT and bring the proposal to the Tourist Development Council for consideration before setting a date for a public hearing.