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Sarasota Herald Tribune (Florida)
NORTH PORT — Overall, Sarasota County commissioners gave the city of North Port's proposed $12 million aquatic complex at Butler Park a thumbs-up for style and substance at Tuesday's joint meeting with the North Port City Commission.
But when the subject of joint funding arose — perhaps either through tourist development tax funds or any other pot of money - the response was still supportive but not encouraging.
"We just committed $20 million of tourist tax dollars within the city of North Port," County Commissioner Charles Hines said, referring to the construction of the Atlanta Braves' spring training complex in the West Villages Improvement District.
Hines — who also chairs the Tourist Development Council — noted that while tourist development tax money is allocated based on the potential value of a project and not geography, the county must be wary of an economic downturn that could impact the county's ability to fund that and other existing commitments.
County Commissioner Nancy Detert later added: "It's not just our economy, it's the European economy, it's the Canadian economy."
Detert likened the city's funding needs with the county's, when it comes to extending the Legacy Trail to Sarasota and building the North Port Connector trail.
"When you're talking about wants instead of needs, the best way to solve your problem ... is to go to referendum," Detert said. "Other than some leprechaun, you're not going to find some pot of money that nobody
has found before — everybody is looking for it."
North Port actually has planned to build the aquatic complex using a one-cent sales tax but, Vice Mayor Vanessa Carusone noted, it was looking to diversify its options.
"We have money; we were just looking for a little help from our friends," Carusone said.
North Port wants to build a scaled-down version of the Rogers Aquatic Center — the "Wet Willy," a three-acre water park in Rogers, Arkansas — nestled next to the Morgan Family Community Center at Butler Park.
The operation would include both a 25-yard stretch competition swimming pool that would be suitable for most high school and college swim meets, a multi-generational, lazy river leisure pool, open and closed flume body slides and possibly a bowl slide with a plunge pool.
The city plans to pay for the bulk of the $12 million cost out of the one-cent sales tax, though some city park impact fees may be used as well.
The county commissioners didn't totally close the door on tourism funds being used on the project. Commissioner Alan Maio noted that should hotels open within the city in conjunction with the new stadium, that will increase the revenue stream for other projects.
"This will cause heads and beds, as we call it," Maio said. "And that's where this tax gets its lifeblood."
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