MANATEE -- The Manatee County Commission on Tuesday approved a plan to bid for the 2017 world rowing championship, which one official called "probably one of the biggest sporting events outside the Olympics."
The bid is being organized by a partnership including Manatee and Sarasota counties and Benderson Development Co.
"This is a game-changer when it comes to these kind of events," said Paul Blackketter, chief operating officer of the SunCoast Aquatic Nature Center Association, a nonprofit corporation established to manage the Sarasota aquatic center where the championship event would take place.
"This event would mean so much more than the $25 million economic impact" over 13 days in September 2017, said Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. "This will brand our course, and give it the credibility worldwide for future sports championships."
By remarketing the area as an amateur sports capital, with companies like Bradenton's IMG Academies and Lakewood Ranch's Premier Sports Campus, several studies show an economic impact at build-out of more than $100 million a year, Blackketter said.
The worldwide exposure is expected to bring new interest in residential real estate, sports medicine and even boat manufacturing to
the two counties, he said, noting the championship event is "probably one of the biggest sporting events outside the Olympics."
The venue at Sarasota's Nathan Benderson Park, located at I-75 and University Parkway, will be the only Class A, tournament-sanctioned rowing course in North America, he said.
The park could host many different types of aquatic events, from rowing to kayaking or dragon boat competitions, that would open the door to more international events.
Blackketter termed it the "opportunity of a lifetime."
Wednesday, the partnership plans to submit a preliminary bid to host the rowing championship.
In April, officials from FISA, "Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d'Aviron," the international rowing federation, will be visiting Manatee and Sarasota counties to inspect the facilities, Blackketter said.
They will be looking at local hotels, talking to commissioners, citizens and those at visitors' bureaus to ensure "we can really support something this huge," Blackketter said.
Although both counties are contributing money to bid for the event, the aquatic center operating plan calls for it to be self-sustaining in the long run, according to Falcione.
"We're excited to showcase the ability to operate a sustainable event of this caliber," he said.
The estimated budget for Manatee's share of the 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.
Commissioners emphasized that no Manatee County property tax money would be used. Rather, the Tourist Development Council, which collects "bed taxes" from visitors, will be picking up the tab.
Two other local rowing venues include Manatee County's Fort Hamer Park, and Sarasota County's Blackburn Point Park.
With representatives of 130 countries voting, the awarding of the 2017 championships is set for September during a meeting in Chungju, South Korea.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.