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Once roasted, now toasted: A rowing center gets the Scott treatment

SARASOTA — Gov. Rick Scott initially said "no."

The $5 million state lawmakers set aside in 2011 for a Sarasota rowing center was deemed to have no statewide purpose, and Scott vetoed it. Dubbed a "turkey" by Florida TaxWatch, the rowing center stood out amid $615 million in spending that Scott axed that year. It was a defining moment for the new governor, a grand gesture to his tea party base and discontent with government spending.

"Special interests probably aren't happy with the tough choices I made," Scott said with a swipe of his veto pen, "but I am confident everyone can agree that funding for our children and students is more important than pleasing Tallahassee's special interests."

Fast forward to Thursday. Scott stood at Regatta Island at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota under a crowded tent teeming with local officials, rowing enthusiasts, business leaders and ESPN analyst Dick Vitale, who thanked him for coming around to support the $40 million rowing center.

In the past two years, Scott has allowed the project $10 million in state funding.

It's an about-face that he says came after boosters of the project persuaded him of its statewide impact.

"They showed me the economics of it, and it just makes a lot of sense that we're going to get all those tourists here," he said. "And I'm very comfortable that on top of getting all those tourists here, they're going to spend money, and some of them are going to move their business here and buy some homes here."

But it's difficult to ignore that those pushing hardest for the state money have made sizable contributions to Scott's re-election efforts.

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