Mote Marine receives $5 million commitment from Manatee County
The tourist development dollars will be paid over a five-year period.
| 8:20 a.m. March 4, 2020
More than a year after Mote Marine Laboratory asked for $5 million from Manatee County in support of its new aquarium project at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota County, the request has been approved.
Manatee County commissioners said they are “all in” for a partnership they expect will aid in water quality issues and in promoting eco-tourism.
On Feb. 25, commissioners voted to give $5 million — $1 million per year for five years starting in fiscal year 2021 — of tourist development tax dollars to Mote to be used in support of its Mote’s City Island facility on Longboat Key and at its future $130 million Science Education Aquarium at Nathan Benderson Park.
“We have huge water issues, and we’ve got to overcome those issues,” Manatee County Commissioner Misty Servia said. “Why not take a pot of money from tourism [tax dollars] and use it in a different way?”
Servia said the funding could be used to promote eco-tourism, education and sustainability all while working with the lead marine scientists in the
world on water quality issues.
“This is such an incredible opportunity, being front and center on water quality” Commissioner at-large Betsy Benac said. “I think all of us want this to happen, but our job is to figure out how. We don’t have unlimited funds, but I think everyone is trying to figure out how to get this done.”
Mote President and CEO Michael Crosby called the support a “game changer.”
“They’ve made it clear about their commitment to both our aquarium’s success and growth of our far-reaching research enterprise that is based on City Island,” Crosby said in a statement.
Crosby said as Mote moves forward with its SEA project over the next three years, the City Island campus will continue to focus on public outreach and programs to draw both visitors and residents. The campus will be transitioned into an International Marine Science, Technology and Innovation Park, where scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs from around the world will visit and work to support the vitality of the ocean and the coastal environment.
Mote had asked Manatee County commissioners for the $5 million in funding in March 2019, at which time commissioners asked for its staff to look at possible funding options.
The topic did not come before the commission again until last week after the advisory Tourist Development Council recommended supporting Mote with $50,000 a year for 20 years — $1 million in total — for marketing and program expansion. Servia, the lone TDC member to support the full $5 million allocation, lobbied her fellow commissioners to get behind the partnership with more funding.
Manatee County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau has proposed using $32 million in tourist development tax on projects that include an expansion to the Bradenton Area Convention Center, infrastructure improvements at Premier Sports Campus and more conference space in East County.
Mote was not on its project list.
Servia said she believes there will be enough tourism dollars available without having to cut planned projects. However, the board might have to make policy decisions and reprioritize the CVB’s project list.
Commissioners have a workshop on the proposed CVB projects scheduled for March 17.