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Sarasota Herald Tribune (Florida)
The Sarasota Family YMCA will receive ongoing support from county taxpayers to operate a swimming pool that has become an emerging sports tourism attraction.
Sarasota County commissioners agreed to budget up to $50,000 next year and $200,000 annually through 2024 to help operate the Selby Aquatic Center, which has been running a $303,306 deficit. The Aquatic Center is run by the YMCA on county property.
YMCA officials argued that the pool does not simply benefit their members. It increasingly is closed to membership in order to host large swimming events.
Last year the pool was off limits to members for 12 days during the Pan-American Masters Championship. County officials have pushed to bring more swimming events like the Pan-American Championship to the Aquatic Center to help boost the region's sports tourism industry.
"The original purpose of the pool has changed to include economic impact," said YMCA President and CEO Kurt Stringfellow in explaining the reasoning behind having taxpayers chip in for pool expenses.
County officials are requiring the YMCA to lower the entrance fee for the swimming pool and an adjacent water park, which are located at the YMCA branch on Potter Park Drive in Palmer Ranch, from $12 to $7 for nonmembers so that the public will have greater access.
During a budget workshop Wednesday, some commissioners worried that other YMCAs in the region could ask for similar funding. But Commissioner Joe Barbetta said the situation with the Aquatic Center is "totally different" because the facility is on county property and could revert to the county if the YMCA decides it is no longer feasible to operate. County officials estimate it would cost substantially more than $200,000 to operate the pool independently when the YMCA's lease is up in 2018.
Commission Chairman Charles Hines added that the Aquatic Center is important for economic development in the region.
"We're promoting sports tourism," Hines said. "If we're going to do that we need facilities to have these events at."