Benderson Development Co. among team to plan rowing races along Bradenton waterfront

skennedy@bradenton.comOctober 13, 2011 

BRADENTON -- Rowing races and regatta events may take off along Bradenton’s waterfront soon, thanks to a newly formed organizing team.

The team hopes to start with a small competitive rowing race by next year, graduating to “more festival type” events such as competitive dragon boat, canoe, kayak and stand-up paddleboard races, says Paul Blackketter, executive director of planning at Benderson Development Co. LLC.

The company is partnering with Manatee and Sarasota counties in hopes of developing world-class rowing facilities across both counties that attract thousands of spectators and athletes.

“The organizing team is being developed to start planning future regattas,” Blackketter said Wednesday. “There’s a lot of interest in hosting these things -- people who do water events are interested in the venue because of the design, and the river, and the amenities.

“It’s definitely a great location to have these events.”

Blackketter is among those who will serve on the organizing team, as is Dave Gustafson, executive director of Bradenton’s Downtown Development Authority.

“We’re putting together the regatta organization committee right now,” said Gustafson. “Our goal is to have city council, as well as Manatee County Board of County Commissioners’ representatives -- it’s a very high-end type board.”

Other potential members include Elliott Falcione, executive director at the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau; representatives from the Manatee County Chamber of Commerce; and experienced regatta organizers who have arranged large races in recent years at Sarasota’s Nathan Benderson Park, Blackketter said.

“Events like boat regattas and other type of large events are definitely in the preliminary stage, especially since we need to gain support from both cities of Bradenton and Palmetto, as well as Manatee County government,” said Falcione. “Obviously, developing events in our beautiful community helps to create and maintain the year-round sustainability of business that is important to our local economy.”

Events highlighting the waterfront offer real, immediate opportunities to grow the local economy, said Carey Miller, office administrator for the Manatee Chamber of Commerce.

“World-class regattas, competitive race events and accompanied festivals will not only bring visitors and new tourism dollars to Manatee County, they will also support a fantastic quality of life for residents by adding recreational, cultural and sports amenities,” Miller said.

Construction that just began along the city’s riverfront, a $6.2 million enhancement of its riverwalk, gives the team plenty of time to plan successful events along Manatee River, Blackketter said.

“You must do the rehearsal, and test it out to make sure we have everything in place, so when we host a major head race, we already have a trained team to implement it,” Blackketter said. “If you’ve got to do it, you’d better do it right; if it’s not planned correctly, they won’t come back.”

Last winter, college-level teams arrived from the north for the first time to train at Fort Hamer Park, south of Parrish. Two affiliated Sarasota County venues include Benderson Park, near the intersection of Interstate 75 and University Parkway, and Blackburn Point Park, in Osprey.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.

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