Big picture on rowing shows its potential for Manatee-Sarasota economy

August 25, 2013 

As the Manatee-Sarasota delegation of public officials and private partners head to South Korea in pursuit of hosting the 2017 World Rowing Championships, they will be basking in the glow of the just-completed U.S. Rowing Masters National Championships. Nathan Benderson Park proved quite worthy with athletes marveling at the calm lake waters, an ideal surface for rowing.

Representatives of the International Rowing Federation, or FISA, scrutinized the park during the four-day masters event this month, and the organization plans to select host sites for both the 2016 World Rowing Cup and the 2017 championships next week.

Surely they left impressed with both the venue and the widespread support of rowing here.

Even Gov. Rick Scott attended the masters championship and stated his commitment to the park. Over the past two years, he signed off on two $5 million grants to the venue -- that after initially denouncing the project and vetoing that same amount in the state budget.

A convert to the cause, the governor told the Bradenton Herald: "We should be the absolute No. 1 tourist destination in the world. It's not going to happen unless you make things like this happen."

Indeed, the venue is all about economic development and job growth. The masters event, the park's first true national regatta, attracted 1,500 athletes with a projected economic impact ranging from $800,000 to $1.5 million.

The world championship would be huge for the region, possibly bringing in 42,000 athletes, spectators and others. Manatee and Sarasota would also benefit from a global viewing audience in the neighborhood of 130 million -- priceless free advertising.

Plus, U.S. Rowing, the national governing body for the sport, intends to hold training camps at the park and relocate regional and national championships on a rotating basis -- practically ensuring the venue's success. The association hailed the park's "world-class facilities," especially the wind attenuation wall, which reduces waves and wind on the seven-lane course.

Just how big is rowing in the United States? The rowing organization puts the number of participants at 250,000.

FISA will be deciding future host cities while the 2013 World Rowing Championships are held in Chungju, South Korea at the newly constructed Tangeum International Regatta Course. The event has attracted a record number of entered nations: 73. The United States has the largest number of entries, indicative of the keen interest in the sport.

And the sport is growing. Just in the past few years, Manatee high schools formed teams and entered competitions. The county built a training facility at Fort Hamer Park, already a success at attracting collegiate teams for winter workouts in Florida's warm and sunny climate.

We can thank the Benderson Development Corp. for proposing and developing the park project. Scott did in awarding the company's president, Randy Benderson, and his family with the Governor's Business Ambassador's Award for their great impact on job creation and Florida's economy.

While Scott cited the venue as "a job creator in a lot of different ways," he could have also pointed to the steel beams rising into the sky in the background along the University Parkway corridor. The giant 100-store Mall at University Town Center, a Benderson project in partnership with Taubman Centers, is expected to open in October 2014 with such anchors as Macy's, Dillards and Saks Fifth Avenue.

The fact that this is the only shopping mall under construction in the entire country should not be lost on residents. The mall partners are obviously bullish on the region's economic prospects for the future.

With hotels, restaurants and other assets, the mall should become a major regional attraction. Benderson is also developing other job-creating commercial projects around the region.

Community and business leaders in the region express great optimism for winning the region's bid for the big prize, the 2017 World Rowing Championships. With the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Association leading the Manatee-Sarasota delegation in South Korea, they will witness the international event they hope to capture.

We wish them success.

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