SARASOTA — It’s one of Sarasota County’s lesser-known tourist attractions, but its impact equals or exceeds that of Nathan Benderson Park, according to Sarasota County Commissioner Nancy Detert.

Facing a critical need to upgrade the facility, commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a $1 million reimbursement grant agreement with Fox Lea Farms in Venice to make improvements.

The facility was established in 1983 and has become a nationally recognized venue for various types of horse shows attracting competitors and visitors worldwide.

Those competitions result in visitors and competitors booking 40,000 room nights annually in local hotels or accommodations, according to Nicole Rissler, the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources director.

“It’s a beautiful facility and the events are spectacular,” Detert said in making the motion to approve the funding request.

“Fox Lea Farm has consistently been one of the biggest generators of Sports Tourism Economic Impact for Sarasota County for over three decades. Fox Lea Farm currently hosts over 42 equestrian competitions annually, and consistently drives tens of millions of dollars into the local economy year after year,” Rissler’s staff report on the request noted.

The funding will allow for replacement of the footing and surfaces in four rings, and “significantly increase the number and caliber of competitions” held at Fox Lea Farms Rissler told commissioners.

Not improving the funding, Rissler warned would risk Fox Lea Farms becoming irrelevant with the opening of two other multimillion facilities in Florida in the past year.

“This is really a no-brainer,” Commission Christian Ziegler said. “It draws a lot of people from out of town.”

The county will use funding from money in the Economic Development Investment Fund to satisfy the request.

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