SARASOTA -- Gov. Rick Scott recognized that a World Rowing Championship bid could not be done without the Bendersons, and bestowed a special award upon the family Thursday for their job creation efforts.
Scott, in town for the U.S. Rowing Masters National Championship at Nathan Benderson Park, awarded Benderson Development Corp. President Randy Benderson and his family the Governor's Business Ambassador's Award for dramatic impact on creating more jobs and supporting the state's economy.
"It'll be a job creator in a lot of different ways," Scott said to Benderson about the rowing venue. "Let all the individuals come here to see a great venue. Because of that, they will buy houses, fill up our restaurants and hotels and move their businesses, so thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you're doing."
The reserved Benderson said getting the national championship has been "a dream come true" and he believes Sarasota has a "very, very good chance" at land
ing the world events.
The quest for a World Rowing Championship grew out of a former borrow pit converted into a man-made lake as Cooper Creek filled it with calm waters that rowers found ideal.
Sarasota County purchased the pit in the 1990s and the area was left mainly untouched until the University Park-based Benderson Development Corp., pitched the rowing venue and county park. Officials heard from collegiate rowing coaches who called the area a jewel of a venue waiting to be polished.
Randy Benderson's father, the late Nathan Benderson whose name graces the park at 2500 Honore Ave., often talked about the venue and could be seen bicycling around the park into his 90s.
Benderson appointed his employee Paul Blackketter to advocate and raise money for the venue, working with Sarasota County officials to buy into the plan. Blackketter now heads up a special non-profit to organize rowing in the two-county area called Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Association, which is also leading the charge to bring the 2017 World Rowing Championship here.
SANCA is also tasked with raising money to build a boathouse, towers for international rowing officials, grandstands and other amenities estimated at $15 million. Sarasota County has contributed $19.5 million toward construction of the park, and the state has contributed $10 million.
Manatee and Sarasota counties also partnered to obtain $14 million in federal funding to pay for a $20 million extension, bridges and trails for North Cattleman Road, which opened in the spring, to serve the venue. Benderson Development paid for the remaining costs through impact fees, as the park serves as a front door into its planned residential and shopping community to the north, which includes the Mall at University Town Center. In exchange for approving the 276-acre development in 2007, Benderson had to create a phased master plan for Benderson Park, according to Sarasota County documents.
The mall, a partnership with Taubman Centers, is expected to open Oct, 16, 2014, and will feature Macy's, Dillard's, Saks Fifth Avenue, another yet-to-be-announced anchor plus more than 100 stores. It is the only shopping mall under construction in the country.
Beyond construction for the venue, both counties are putting up money to fund the production and bid for the event. The estimated budget for Manatee's expenses for the championship through 2017 was listed at $1.1 million, also paid by bed taxes, while its Sarasota counterpart pledged to pay in $1.16 million through 2017. Officials expect to make that money back through broadcasting deals and other sponsorships for the event.
Dick Vitale, Lakewood Ranch resident and ESPN basketball analyst, also recognized the Bendersons' work.
"I don't know anything about rowing ... but I do know people," Vitale said. "I've been around people who are winners in the game of life. I knew the first time I met the Benderson family that this was a family that was more than just about building buildings and building shopping centers. They're people that are generous and caring and extended a hand to help those in need."
The international rowing federation, or FISA, is expected to announce the host city of the 2017 World Rowing Championship on Sept. 2 in Chungju, South Korea.