Manatee County officials head to Switzerland for rowing championships

skennedy@bradenton.comMay 20, 2013 

MANATEE -- Three Manatee County officials will fly to Switzerland in July seeking the right to play host to the 2017 World Rowing Championship.

Manatee County Commission Chairman Larry Bustle, County Administrator Ed Hunzeker and tourism chief Elliott Falcione are part of a delegation going to Zurich and Lucerne, where they'll lobby for Sarasota's Nathan Benderson Park to be named the site of the championship event.

The three booked July 10 flights leaving from Tampa International Airport and returning July 16, according to county records.

"We haven't had our planning meeting yet, but obviously the main message is: 'Our venue is the venue they should pick,'" Bustle said.

The Manatee group will join a contingent from Sarasota County and one from the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Association, a nonprofit foundation headed by Benderson Development Co. executive Paul Blackketter.

The coalition submitted a formal preliminary bid in February.

"Paul Blackketter has done yeoman's work, he's done a terrific job," said Bustle. "Our job is to show the commitment what our community has."

Randy Benderson, president and chief executive officer at Benderson Development, based at University Park, and one of the largest private commercial real estate developers in the United States, also plans to make the trip.

The company co-developed the Mall at University Town Center next to the rowing venue at the southwest corner of Interstate 75 and University Parkway, just south of the Manatee-Sarasota county line.

"There's been an awful lot of groundwork laid, but this is the final presentation and show of community support," said Hunzeker.

Last month, a visiting team from the International Federation of Rowing Associations inspected the park. They then made suggestions for $6.5 million in improvements necessary to land the bid.

In September, representatives of 130 countries affiliated with the federation will award the 2017 championships during a meeting in Chungju, South Korea.

The Switzerland trip will be paid for by visitor bed taxes administered by the Manatee Tourism Development Council. Bustle's base airline ticket price, for example, was $1,544, according to county records.

The county commission last winter OK'd the bed tax funds to be used to pay expenses. At the time, Manatee County costs were expected to be $1,104,740 over a five-year period, with $277,000 allocated for 2013, county documents said.

But the council last week endorsed guaranteeing up to $3.25 million more to help fund the operational budget of the rowing event.

The money is part of a financial guarantee to be included in the final bid packet to be submitted June 30 to the federation of rowing associations, it reported.

The county commission plans to review the plan June 4, said Nick Azzara, county information outreach coordinator.

In Switzerland, the delegation is slated to meet federation officials and those representing U.S. Rowing, the national rowing organization.

They also will man a display about the Sarasota-Bradenton venue before making a final pitch for the event, according to a trip agenda.

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

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