MANATEE -- A key international rowing council is recommending the 2017 World Rowing Championship be awarded to Nathan Benderson Park, setting off cautious celebration Monday throughout Manatee and Sarasota counties.
The 14-member council of the International Federation of Rowing Associations, which oversees the world championship, will recommend Bradenton-Sarasota as its choice, officials confirmed.
"Needless to say, as a member of the team that went to Lucerne to carry our proposal, I am very excited about it. I think it's fantastic," Manatee County Commissioner Larry Bustle said. Bustle returned recently from Switzerland, where he was part of the team lobbying for the bid.
"It's a great achievement, and we
look forward to a successful presentation before the FISA Congress in South Korea in September," he said, referring to the world body that will make the final decision.
Nicole Rissler, director of sports for Sarasota's convention and visitors bureau, said: "We're obviously excited to hear their recommendation is for us. We have work to do in South Korea to make sure the Congress moves with the council's recommendation."
Representatives of more than 130 countries affiliated with the federation will officially award the right to host the championship Sept. 2 in Chungju, South Korea. Bustle will represent the Manatee County Commission at that meeting.
Benderson Development Co. executive Paul Blackketter, who leads the local delegation from Manatee and Sarasota counties, welcomed the news Monday.
"This was a major milestone, however, we still have the Congress to convince," Blackketter cautioned.
No exact dates for the championship have been set, Blackketter said. If Sarasota-Bradenton receives the final nod, the event would take place in the last two weeks of September or during the first week of October 2017.
Blackketter heads a nonprofit foundation supporting the two-county public/private bid. His employer, Benderson Development Co., is also a partner in the effort.
Benderson Park, which started out as a borrow pit, adjoins the massive Benderson mall now under construction and set to open in 2014 at Interstate 75 and University Parkway.
The announcement also set off celebrations at the nation's top rowing organization.
"I couldn't be happier," said Glenn Merry, chief executive officer of USRowing, the national governing body recognized by the U.S. Olympic Committee and designated in charge of U.S. rowing
"It's a tremendous opportunity for our sport -- those opportunities don't come around that often," he said. "What they've done, it's really, truly going to revolutionize the level of rowing and sport in the area."
Asked if the council's recommendation made Bradenton-Sarasota's final selection a given, Merry replied: "No, not necessarily."
"The Congress can have a mind of its own, it does have 136 nations," he said. "We must go to the finish line, but with the FISA (federation) executive committee support behind the bid, we're going in with a very good lead to have this come through."
The last time the championship was held in the United States was in 1994 in Indianapolis, he said.
The council recommended Bulgaria, the U.S. rival for the 2017 games, should host the 2018 championship instead.
The rowing event is expected to generate a regional economic impact of $25 million or more.
"It's a true honor for the Sarasota-Bradenton Nathan Benderson Rowing Center, to be recommended as a host community for the 2017 World Rowing Championships," said John Webb, president of Florida Sports, a division of Enterprise Florida Inc. "The community has worked tirelessly to showcase this great facility and now this region can play host to this world-class event. We look forward to the full Congress approving the recommendation in September."
In addition to Benderson Park, other local rowing venues to benefit include Manatee County's Fort Hamer Park and Sarasota County's Blackburn Point Park.
"It's absolutely huge. The downtown is a major, major player with this," said David Gustafson, executive director of the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority.
Bradenton is only 20 minutes from Benderson Park, and can attract athletes and fans to the city for entertainment, he said.
"We're going to be shipping people over here in buses," he said.
Also, teams could use area waterways and lakes in preparation for the event.
"Any water body bigger than a bathtub will be used for training," Gustafson said.
Sarasota County Commissioner Joe Barbetta praised the teamwork that has the area on the precipice of landing a world-class event.
"It was great news, and the culmination of a lot of hard work, dedication, and a great team effort by all involved, both in Sarasota and Manatee County, and it will result in great benefits for this region and for the state," he said.
Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention Center, praised the bicounty teamwork.
"It just shows how two counties can set a goal, work hard together, and fulfill that goal," Falcione said. "So, we're one step away from securing this event. We must continue to work hard, stay focused and continue to collaborate and communicate with FISA staff to get this deal done."
-- Business reporter Charles Schelle contributed to this report.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.