International team to evaluate Sarasota-Bradenton for World Rowing Championship bid

skennedy@bradenton.comApril 14, 2013 

MANATEE -- An international team representing the sport of rowing plans to spend the week touring and evaluating Manatee and Sarasota counties for the area's bid to host the 2017 World Rowing Championship.

Manatee and Sarasota, as part of a public-private partnership, are seeking the right to stage the world championship at Sarasota's Nathan Benderson Park.

The visiting team, which will conduct a site inspection of the park, represents The Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d'Aviron, or FISA, which translates in English to The International Federation of Rowing Associations.

"Their goal is to get a good flavor of our regional assets, to see how our road networks are and the beaches and restaurants and hotels, the basic regional infrastructure to support a major event," said Paul Blackketter, chief operating officer of the SunCoast Aquatic Nature Center Association, a nonprofit corporation established to manage the park's aquatic center.

"They go by what we submitted in our bid package and grade it," he said. "We want to make sure we fulfill all their goals and obligations, and what they expect for the world championship,

and how we can compliment that."

Blackketter estimated that, conservatively, the economic impact for the area would be "in the $24 million range" for a 17-day event in September 2017.

The focus will be on the region as a whole, and on the infrastructure needed to support "such a large and prestigious event," he said Friday.

On the visiting team's agenda Tuesday is a joint session of the Manatee and Sarasota county commissions, in Sarasota.

Slated for discussion at that meeting, in connection with the championship bid, are potential joint transit system proposals; a faster, more efficient bus service called Bus Rapid Transit; a joint public safety communication system; future transportation needs along University Parkway, near Benderson Park and potential funding opportunities.

The Federation's team is slated to include Executive Director Matt Smith, of the U.S.; Svetla Otzetova, events director, of Bulgaria; Andrew Couper, marketing director, of Great Britain; and Colleen Orsmond, events manager, of the Republic of South Africa, according to Sarasota County documents.

They plan to stay at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Sarasota.

"It's a bunch of Blue Blazers from Europe that will come to make sure the facilities are up to their standards," said Chip Davis, publisher of ROWING magazine, based in New Hampshire.

He noted that there hasn't been a world championship in the U.S. since 1994, and the last one on the North American continent was held at Saint Catharines, Ontario, in 1999.

"They, like Sarasota, were able to take a world championship bid, and turn it into a lasting facility that, in Ontario, has served the local rowing community ever since," said Davis. "Saint Catharines remains a major destination for American rowing; there's nothing similar, yet, in the U.S."

The team will be here to assist with the bid package, and they'll have questions, said Dave Gustafson, executive director of the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority.

"The bid has already been submitted ... and we'll have to respond to questions about our bid -- transportation, logistics, hotels, weather, you name it, everything is on their list," he said.

He emphasized that, in addition to tens of thousands of visitors, the event would provide televised, worldwide coverage of the area.

"It's a world showcase, it puts us on the map for the world," explained Gustafson. "The events will be televised to many, many countries. We're just happy to partner with Sarasota -- there's strength in numbers there with all of us partnering."

If the area is awarded the right to stage the event, 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, officials have said.

"We're going to want to give them a sense of the complete enthusiasm of the whole community, which I think they're going to get wherever they go," said Virginia Haley, president of VISIT Sarasota County, formerly the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"I am thrilled with the coincidence of the joint commission meeting; when we realized that, we thought, 'What better way to show them?' They want to make sure elected leaders are fully behind it."

Blackketter said the event's date in the fall of 2017 would be beneficial as far as transportation needs, since it is a slow season in our area.

"It's the perfect time of year for us, to be able to host something of this scale," Blackketter said.

Benderson Park, currently under construction, is near Interstate 75 and University Parkway; two other local rowing venues developed as part of the partnership's work include Manatee County's Fort Hamer Park, and Sarasota County's Blackburn Point Park. Manatee has budgeted up to $10,000 for the trip to bring the officials here, according to Nick Azzara, county information outreach coordinator.

The estimated budget for all of Manatee's expenses for the championship through 2017 is listed at $1,104,740, according to county documents OK'd by commissioners in February along with bid documents.

Sarasota County's expenses for the championship through 2017 are listed at $1,159,740.

Manatee officials emphasized that no property tax money would be used. Rather, the Tourist Development Council, which collects "bed taxes" from visitors, would pick up the tab, they said.

With representatives of 130 countries voting, the awarding of the 2017 championship bid 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.

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