SARASOTA - Two years after vetoing state funding for a rowing park in Sarasota, Governor Rick Scott touted what he called a "great venue" that will help power the area's economy.
Thursday morning Scott toured Nathan Benderson Park as competition began in the U.S. Rowing Masters Championships, and spoke at a celebration of the venue's progress so far. "This will be a job creator," Scott said, as he presented Benderson Development CEO Randy Benderson a Governor's Business Ambassador Award medal. "Thank you from the bottom of my heart." Scott said.
It marks a stark contrast from 2011, Scott's first year as governor, when he rejected funding the legislature approved for the park. Benderson does not blame him. "Once the governor understood the economic impact, and we explained it properly, he was totally behind it," Benderson says. "But before that, he rightfully vetoed it."
The idea, born in 2006, that rowing on a former borrow pit could become an economic engine for Sarasota and Manatee Countiees took some warming to, even here. "Really? Is that what we ought to do?" Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston remembers saying. Poston went on the trip to Lucerne, Switzerland, where local officials joined Benderson executives as they made their pitch to host the 2017 World Rowing Championships, and saw what impact a rowing venue could make. "It's part of their national pride," he says. "It is going to be that way in the United States, and the venue is going to be here."
Asked about his change of heart, Scott said, "It made sense, the economics of it." In addition to luring tourists, he believes, the park will attract people who buy homes and bring their businesses here. He added that his appreciate of the park comes as part of growing as governor. "Here's what you learn in this job," he said.
Benderson will learn September 2 if it has won the bid to host the world championships, which would expect to draw tens of thousands of people.