The Sarasota Sharks have maintained control over the property since early 2018.
The Sarasota County Commission approved a lease that would allow the Sarasota Sharks to maintain control of the Selby Aquatic Center for up to the next 30 years with a 5-0 vote Tuesday.
The nonprofit has run the center and its Olympic-sized pool since 2018, when the club assumed a contract with the YMCA to keep the Potter Park pool open.
The contract drew some contention at an August commission meeting when members of another organization, Southwest Florida Water Polo Foundation, expressed concerns that they wouldn’t be afforded the same opportunities as the Sharks.
Foundation President Beth Bailey said the organization’s request to rent time at the center was met with “predatory pricing” and 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.
Since the August meeting, the Sharks made a new proposal for water polo practice times and rates. Additionally, a revised draft of the contract was submitted to the commission.
The original contract stated the county would provide the Sharks with a $180,000 subsidy with an automatic 3% annual increase for pool operations. If the lease were to last the full 30 years, the county would have paid nearly $8.8 million to the Sharks.
Now, any increases or decreases in the subsidy will be tied to the Consumer Price Index.
Additionally, the new contract features a stipulation that the fee the Sharks charge for public use must be approved by the county. If the county and the Sharks can’t come to an agreement on fees and hours offered to the public, either party can terminate the lease.
Commissioner Nancy Detert said the changes made to the contract made it suitable for all parties involved.
“I think the water polo’s biggest complaint was fee schedule and I feel in today’s world it’s a perfectly regular fee schedule,” Detert said. “The worst thing possible is this pool would close and nobody gets anything.”
Commissioner Christian Ziegler, who supported the contract, also empathized with the water polo team, stating that when he was in high school, he was part of a new lacrosse team that struggled to find practice space.
“Sometimes we would have to drive 45 minutes to practice. It was tough because we always seemed to be last on the list,” he said. “ … Hopefully we can bridge the gap between the water polo folks because I know where they’re at.”
Sarasota Sharks board chair Ryan Walker said the Sharks heard the board’s concerns and quickly addressed them with the new contract. He said he feels that with the changes made, the Sharks can create a “mutually satisfactory stewardship” for years to come.