MANATEE -- Last summer, Paul Blackketter, project manager for the Florida World Aquatic Center in Sarasota's Nathan Benderson Park, attended the World Rowing Junior Championships at London's Eton Dorney Rowing Center, which served as a test event for the 2012 Summer Olympics.
The site is now being used for the Summer Olympics. The trip gave Blackketter a blueprint of how a world-class rowing venue should operate. He quickly realized Sarasota's location wasn't far from reaching that standard.
"We went there to understand that scale," he said. "Looking at their venue and knowing what we have and compared to what they have, we are fortunate. It was another wow factor knowing we have the hotels, restaurants and all the right infrastructure to hold that type of event. You're able to intelligently compare how we stack up against them."
FISA, the international rowing federation, approved the aquatic center's 2,000-meter course as the first Class A course in the U.S. to host national and world rowing championships. Next year, the center will host a national master rowing event and, in 2014, more than 100 teams and 3,000 people are expected to converge on the Manatee-Sarasota area for the IBCPC 2014 Breast Cancer Dragon Boat Festival.
Blackketter said the center also is up for bid to host the NCAA rowing championships in 2014 and 2015.
On Aug. 10, Blackketter and his staff will travel to Bulgaria to meet with officials from FISA to receive the organization's final approval on the Sarasota rowing venue. Blackketter has submitted a bid to host the World Rowing Championships in 2017. If awarded, Sarasota would become only the second U.S. location to host the world championship. Indianapolis became the first U.S. city in 1994.
"It's great to see a world-class venue being built in the United States," said Brett Johnson, director of operations for U.S. Rowing, the sports national governing body. "We're looking forward to working with the venue to bring our events and world events to the U.S. in the near future."
The Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Association, a non-profit corporation established to manage the aquatic center, anticipates the facility will generate $209 million annually from the estimated 750,000 new tourists that will come to the area, in addition to $12.5 million generated in sales tax.
The facility near the Manatee-Sarasota line is under construction to add infrastructure required by FISA.
Regatta Island, a 30-acre multi-use site on the opposite side of the lake, will include a boat house training center, storage units for boats and rentals, parking area, wave protec
tion platform and finish line tower. The Florida Legislature approved $5 million for the project this year to assist with funding the upgrades.
"We sat down and met with the manager of the course" in London, said Blackketter, also CEO of the SunCoast Aquatic Nature Center Association. "He looked at our venue and said, 'Wow, you guys are very fortunate to be in Sarasota.'"
Nick Williams, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Twitter: @_1NickWilliams