Buzz is growing for rowing as Manatee, Sarasota await championship bid

Officials say they feel good about oddsof landing the 2017 championships

jbartolone@bradenton.comSeptember 1, 2013 

BRADENTON -- The buzz over rowing is growing.

Officials from Manatee and Sarasota counties, on a trip to Chungju, South Korea, for this year's World Rowing Championships, say they feel good about their chances as they anxiously await Monday's decision on whether this area will host the 2017 event.

"We're certainly ready for it," said Paul Blackketter, who oversees operations at the Nathan Benderson Park rowing facility, in a Skype video interview Saturday with the Herald. "This is the opportunity of a lifetime."

The rowing facility, under construction off University Parkway and Interstate 75 just south of the Manatee-Sarasota border, has apparently made an impression with members of FISA, the international rowing federation that will dole out the 2017 championship bid. Plovdiv, Bulgaria, is the other finalist.

"I had a T-shirt on today that said 'Sarasota-Bradenton'; several people stopped me and said, 'Wow, you're the guys with the great venue, we've seen pictures of it, we've seen the video, looks fantastic, good luck." Sarasota County Commissioner Joe Barbetta said.

Local officials have been going over logistics and touring the facilities in South Korea during their trip. They've also spent time networking with representatives of the 137 countries that make up FISA -- for instance, Manatee County Commissioner Larry Bustle spent time during a recent dinner connecting with three representatives from African nations, Blackketter said.

One topic of conversation that keeps popping up is Florida's notorious hurricane season.

"This is something that we're working out with them, coming up with the optimum time to host the championship," Blacketter said. "We're trying to push it into later September, maybe early October, and they're working those times and schedules, understanding the weather data ... I would say the biggest question is the weather."

Efforts to win the 2017 bid have been a true team effort, not just among the Manatee-Sarasota delegation, but by the American athletes and coaches participating in South Korea, too.

"The U.S. team actually has a sticker on the side of the boat that shows Sarasota-Bradenton and our logo as a candidate city, and they're also wearing T-shirts," Barbetta said.

The championships could have huge economic implications for the area, said Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"It'll come with a high demographic athlete and a high demographic parents," Falcione said. "So that's what makes it exciting, because when you expose that demographic to our beautiful community, they'll probably want to come back for a vacation in the future, probably want to buy or move a business into the area and probably buy real estate. So that's the kind of domino effect we see through these kind of initiatives."

The event itself would also be a spectacle that locals will want to see, said Sarasota County administrator Randall Reid, describing the rowing championships as "right on the verge of being a Olympic quality-type atmosphere."

"Watching the families and the friends all cheering on their sons and daughters, especially today, the crowds were huge, and you see people cheering for the Italians and the Koreans and the Australians, it is such an amazing event," said Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County. "And then you're surrounded by all these different exhibits to see local folklore and crafts and people making pottery and the food and culture of this region. So it really gives you an amazing feel and it means that all those people who come to these events really get to have a sense of the entire country they're visiting."

Blackketter says he hopes the entire region will get behind the effort if the decision goes in their favor.

"This is where the entire communities of both counties, up to Tampa Bay all the way down to Charlotte, we're going to need their help to pull this thing off, and we've got to come together to showcase what we really have."

But until Monday, all they can do is wait.

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