Nathan Benderson Park wins planning association's top award

jdela@bradenton.comJuly 11, 2013 

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The 2017 World Rowing Championships will be held in early fall at Nathan Benderson Park, international rowing officials announced Wednesday. GRANT JEFFERIES/Herald file photo

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MANATEE -- Nathan Benderson Park has been awarded the 2013 Florida Award of Excellence from the Florida chapter of the American Planning Association.

The centerpiece of the park, a 2,000-meter rowing course next to University Town Center at the southwest corner of Interstate 75 and University Parkway, is being considered as the venue for the 2017 World Rowing Championship. Several Manatee and Sarasota county officials are in Switzerland this week making a presentation to the International Federation of Rowing Associations, hoping to best a competing bid from Bulgaria.

Paul Blackketter, chief operating officer of the Sun

Coast Aquatic Nature Center Association, a nonprofit corporation managing the park's aquatic center, said the commitment to involve the community and local government in the planning process from the beginning is the key to the park's success.

"You can't succeed unless the community is involved," Blackketter said.

Transforming the property into an asset for the community and the world was a testament to cooperation, Blackketter said.

"You have to have this level of cooperation and the ability to bring it all together," he added.

Sharon Hillstrom, president and CEO of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp., said the EDC was kept in the loop at every step of the process.

"When Paul first reached out to us, we were very excited because sports performance is a target sector for us," Hillstrom said, "It made sense for collaboration all across the board."

Adriana Trujillo-Villa, a development coordinator with the Sarasota County Planning and Development Services Department, was part of a group that nominated Benderson for the APA award. She said while Benderson Park won the award, many county agencies and dozens of people were involved in making the project a success.

"It was a team effort," Trujillo-Villa said.

Criteria considered by judges for the award included quality, comprehensiveness, engagement, and originality and innovation.

The award, in the planning project category, will be presented at the APA's annual state conference in September in Orlando.

At the APA's national conference earlier this year, Sarasota County received the Hunter Award for Excellence in Economic Development and the Award of Merit for the rowing park.

Nathan Benderson Park is certainly an original, says Hillstrom.

"Everything we've been shown says there will be nothing like it in the world," she said.

She praised it as the result of real progressive thinking to create a world-class facility that will benefit the area financially.

"It's pretty clever. It's pretty cool," she said.

Officials estimate the 2017 world championship alone would have a $24 million economic impact on the area, attracting 42,000 visitors, filling 40,000 room nights in hotels and drawing 130 million television and Internet viewers worldwide.

Jim DeLa, East Manatee editor, can be reached at 941-745-7011. Follow him in Twitter @JimDeLaBH.

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