Manatee businesspeople hope for World Rowing Championship

skennedy@bradenton.comFebruary 12, 2013 

MANATEE -- Hoteliers and other business people were excited Monday about efforts to host the 2017 world rowing championships, which a local partnership is seeking to bid on later this year.

If the event were held today, it would provide an economic boost of almost $25 million, according to Manatee County officials.

"It would feel good, yes, if they did come to our town," said Dipesh Patel, manager of the Sunrise Inn, 668 67th St. Circle E., Bradenton, a hotel located near the venue where the championship event would be held at Sarasota's Nathan Benderson Park.

"It would help out all the local businesses," he said.

Monday, the Manatee Tourist Development Council approved a plan to bid for the championship event. The bid is being organized by partner

ship including Manatee and Sarasota counties and Benderson Development Co.

"This will showcase this aquatic center, showcase Sarasota-Bradenton to countries around the world," Elliott Falcione, executive director for the Bradenton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, told the council.

"This will be the best in the Western Hemisphere, probably (among) the top three in the world, so we have something special," Falcione said.

Attendance could reach 42,000, with 1,213 athletes and 973 coaches and officials from more than 62 nations, according to estimates based upon last year's championships in Bled, Slovenia.

Two other local rowing venues include Manatee County's Fort Hamer Park, and Sarasota County's Blackburn Point Park.

The estimated budget for Manatee's expenses for the championship through 2017 was listed at $1,104,740. Its Sarasota counterpart was listed at $1,159,740, according to county documents.

But council members emphasized that no Manatee County property tax money would be used. Rather, the Tourist Development Council, which collects "bed taxes" from visitors, would be picking up the tab if the Manatee County Commission approves.

A great deal of construction has already taken place or is under way to accommodate rowers.

In 2009, a county park near Interstate 75 and University Parkway was renamed in honor of the patriarch of the Benderson Development Co. after the company and the family spent $1 million for naming rights.

Benderson Park featured 200 acres of land and a 400-acre lake but needed amenities in order to host competitive rowing events.

Two years ago, Sarasota County allocated $20 million in tourism tax dollars to build infrastructure and expand the park's lake to meet world championship standards.

Over the past three years, it has also budgeted $250,000 to help put on regattas there.

Last year, the state provided a grant of $5 million that is paying for a system to limit waves on the lake, ensuring competitive fairness, according to Paul Blackketter, chief operating officer of the SunCoast Aquatic Nature Center Association, a nonprofit corporation established to manage the aquatic center.

The return on investment is more than was expected, since Benderson Park is hosting an increasing number of national and international events, he said.

"We are exceeding expectations on returns," he said.

With 130 countries voting, the awarding of the 2017 championships is set for September during a meeting in Chungju, South Korea, Blackketter said.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.

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