Sarasota County Commissioners move forward on $20 million commitment to new Mote aquarium

Sarasota County Moves Forward on $20 Million to Mote

SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - Sarasota County Commissioners have moved forward on committing $20 million to the new Mote Marine Laboratory aquarium.

But it’s not set in stone yet.

There’s some controversy because the commissioners are planning to take this chunk of money from a tourist tax that’s only allocated for things that attract people to our area, like local arts and culture.

This aquarium would be considered a tourist attraction, but Mote’s request for $20 million is one that the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County said the County Commissioners haven’t received before.

Usually, arts and cultural organizations raise their own funds in a capital campaign without asking county commissioners to support it. But in this case, Mote is asking Commissioners for $20 million towards its new $130 million aquarium.

As proposed, this money would come from five percent of the tourism development tax. The tax money is traditionally divided and allocated to different organizations for promotional use, like Visit Sarasota County, that are tasked with supporting the arts, culture and beaches that attract tourist to our area.

Commissioners voted to send their $20 million commitment to the County’s Tourist Development Council for review before making a final decision.

But the Arts and Cultural Alliance said taking this much money from that fund would dramatically take away from other arts and tourist organizations.

“That money is designated to drive tourism and that’s why we spend so much money already on the beaches and on the arts, because we know that’s why people come here,” said Jim Shirley, executive director of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County. “I would love to have enough money to support everybody’s capital campaign. But we don’t.”

Now, the Tourist Development Council will consider re-allocating five percent of the annual tourist tax revenue towards to the Mote project. This would equal $1.2 million.

The new aquarium is in planning to be built on a portion of Nathan Benderson Park which falls in Sarasota County.

Mote anticipates bringing in a lot of revenue from their new site that will offset this big chunk of change.

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