SARASOTA — Over a decade ago, former Sarasota County Commissioner Joe Barbetta recognized the importance of sports and the associated tourism to the county’s economy, pushing fellow board members to invest in both.
Fast forward to 2017 when the county held the world rowing championships at Nathan Benderson Park and county leaders scrambled to allocate the resources to hold the event.
Now, with even a reluctant Commissioner Nancy Detert agreeing, sports tourism will have a dedicated pot of money in reserve for this purpose.
During its meeting Tuesday morning, the board unanimously agreed to allocate 5% of the county’s overall collections from the tourist development tax, more commonly known as the bed tax, dedicated to sports tourism and related activities.
As part of the package, they also agreed to the creation of a sports tourism liaison position with the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department.
Marketing of sports tourism for the county will remain with Visit Sarasota County.
“Dedicated funding is crucial to the implement our 10-year plan,” Parks Director Nicole Rissler told commissioners.
Detert wasn’t quite so sure.
“When you start cutting up the pie and certain people have a guaranteed fund, you’ll have everyone else fighting over the rest,” Detert said, naming a list of sports-related activities already funded by tourist development tax. “I’m not a big fan of just sports.”
Rissler responded the funding would not be funded to a specific group or entity. Instead, she said, the money would be available for sports purposes overall.
“That’s my problem. It’s still going to sports tourism, meaning I’m choosing that over other things,” Detert responded.
In the end, however, Detert did support the motion going forward.
Commissioner Ron Cutsinger of Englewood was quick to voice his enthusiasm.
“This will allow us to build this reserve up so the funds are there when a big event comes along and we’re scrambling to fund it,” Cutsinger said. “I like this. It makes sense to me.”
Tuesday’s approval by commissioners however only sets the wheels in motion to make the change.
Rissler and her staff along with the county attorney’s office must now draft an amendment to the tourist development tax ordinance to allocate the percentage devoted to sports tourism.
Once the amendment is drafted, the item will return to the commissioners for a public hearing at a later date.