Manatee rowers, restaurateurs celebrate 2017 World Rowing Championship

skennedy@bradenton.comSeptember 3, 2013 

MANATEE -- Rowers and other athletes, restaurateurs and hoteliers celebrated Monday after the Manatee-Sarasota area won the right to stage the 2017 World Rowing Championship at Sarasota's Nathan Benderson Park.

"It's fantastic. It's wonderful," said Todd Chastain, 17, a Palmetto High School senior who has been on the rowing team three years. "These people will come from all over the world. We'll meet the top of the top athletes. We're lucky it's in our backyard."

University of South Florida rower Jensen Newhall, 19, of Tampa, was excited about being able to see Olympic-level athletes training and competing here.

"We'll see something I've only seen on TV," said Newhall, who said the sport of rowing had "completely changed my life."

"I was 20 pounds heavier and didn't do anything except sitting inside," he said. "It's physically demanding. It's a challenge."

A delegation representing Manatee and Sarasota counties, a nonprofit foundation and the Benderson Development Co. LLC learned late Sunday its bid to stage the championship had been approved.

The 137-member congress of the International Federation of Rowing Associations, meeting in Chungju, South Korea, named Sarasota-Bradenton its preferred site over a competing bid from Bulgaria.

The venue under construction at Benderson Park, located at Interstate 75 and University Parkway, will be the only Class A, tournament-sanctioned rowing course in North America.

Two other local rowing venues include Manatee County's Fort Hamer Park and Sarasota County's Blackburn Point Park.

Its economic impact has been estimated at between $25 million and $100 million.

All the hoopla has generated a boomlet of interest among young people, said Trish Jackson, coach for Manatee County Youth Rowing, which oversees teams from Palmetto, Southeast and Manatee high schools.

"We had an orientation day Saturday, and were expecting 100 total, but we ended up with well over 100," she said. "It was a pleasant, overwhelming surprise."

A rowing program being introduced at Manatee County's middle schools already has a waiting list, she said.

It was not just rowers who were thrilled the event would be here. Bicyclist Millard Yoder, 58, a civil engineer from Sarasota, said the selection was "a great honor for the community."

"I will most definitely be attending," he said of the event. "There's not many opportunities to attend a world-class event in our neighborhood."

Similarly, restaurateurs are looking forward to feeding thousands of hungry athletes, coaches and spectators.

College rowing teams arriving at Fort Hamer Park to train in the fall and winter give Ferraro's Italian Grille an economic charge, said owner Frank LoGrande.

"We get them in December or January," he said. "They make their own orders, we make up big trays and deliver them to the hotels; they eat a lot of pasta dishes."

As for the world championship, which would entail rowers on a much grander scale, LoGrande said: "We are always looking to make more business."

Ferraro's, at 8348 U.S. 301 N., in Parrish, is a sponsor of the Palmetto High School rowing team, LoGrande said.

The championship also intrigues Lynn French, a front-desk employee at the Marriott Fairfield Inn & Suites, 6105 Exchange Way, Lakewood Ranch.

"It's going to boost our revenue wonderfully," she said. "We have them now, just not as big."

Already, rowing events held at nearby Benderson Park have made a difference in hotel revenues, she said.

"We book a lot of rowing teams here. We have a good breakfast, it's so close to the water, we get a lot of rowing people here. We love having rowing, it's just different," she said.

The hotel accommodates team needs for more breakfast carbs and protein, French said. And if they are training at 5 a.m., "We open breakfast early for them whatever time they need it."

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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