Manatee-Sarasota looks to 2017 for world rowing championships

jajones1@bradenton.comJanuary 20, 2013 

PARRISH -- Hosting world rowing championships in Manatee-Sarasota has been a hot topic for several years.

Now there is a proposed date: 2017.

Legendary Harvard rowing coach Harry Parker, whose team is training at Fort Hamer for the third consecutive year, says it could happen.

"It seems like there is a good possibility of that," Parker said Sunday morning as his 186 men and women rowers completed practice on the Manatee River.

"It's a great set up, a great place," Parker said not only of the Manatee County training facility for rowers at Fort Hamer, but the 2,000-meter sprint course at Nathan Benderson Park, just south of the Manatee-Sarasota county line.

Paul Blackketter, Benderson Development project manager for rowing, said the Manatee-Sarasota area has a "very, very good shot" at landing the world championships.

"It's going to be something spectacular," Blackketter said.

Sarasota County Commissioners recently voted to help pay for the cost of seeking the world championships.

Dick Omohundro and his wife, Anne, of Lakewood Ranch visited Fort Hamer on Sunday to watch the Harvard rowing teams, which arrived Jan. 15, and are scheduled to depart Jan. 25.

"It will change the center

of rowing in America," said Dick Omohundro, who at age 72 is a life-long rowing enthusiast.

Rowing, which has historically been dominated by northern schools, should see a shift as southern schools embrace the sport, he said.

For one thing, the south has warmer weather going for it, making it more conducive to year-round training.

Manatee and Sarasota counties have embraced rowing as a way of expanding the local economy and attracting new tourist dollars.

The number of people coming south this year from Harvard is 202, counting coaches and others, and the team is staying in an Ellenton hotel, said assistant coach Bill Manning.

Nathan Benderson Park has already hosted regional collegiate and high school rowing championships, attracting thousands of athletes, family members and others.

A world championship would attract tens of thousands, providing a multi-million dollar injection of new money into the economy.

Nathan Benderson Park is adjacent to the 680,000-square-foot Mall at University Town Center, projected to open in 2014, and produce $500 million in sales revenue.

New hotels are planned at the development to help handle the influx of visitors.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 941-745-7021 or tweet @jajones1.

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