UNIVERSITY PARK -- World-class rowing is that much closer to becoming reality.
The logo for the 2017 World Championships was unveiled Saturday at Nathan Benderson Park during the United States Southeast Junior District Rowing Championships.
Key elements depicting life on the Suncoast, a pelican and sunset, were incorporated in the design.
"We really wanted to focus on the natural, environmental aspect of the venue that we have here," said Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates (SANCA) Chief Operating Officer Paul Blackketter, who credited the International Federation of Rowing Associations (FISA) as the designer of the logo. "FISA took all our ideas and basically said, 'How we envision is we love your sunsets. You
have the best, beautiful sunsets that we've ever seen.' ... The two major things were the sunset and the pelicans, the birds that they focused on the most when they came here to visit."
Benderson is the host venue for the 2017 World Championships, which are set to bring in a plethora of rowers and spectators and are expected to give a boost to the economy and showcase Sarasota/Bradenton as a marquee area for big-time sporting events.
"The World Rowing Championships, in and of itself, we expect about 40,000 spectators and visitors, with additionally between 1,600 and 2,000 athletes to be here," said Nicole Rissler, sports director for Visit Sarasota County.
Saturday's logo presentation is just another step in the process of transforming Benderson into a facility capable of hosting such a large international gathering of athletes and fans.
"I think it's very impressive, and it kind of gives it a little bit more reality to what's going on," said Manatee County Youth Rowing head coach Trish Jackson. "Hopefully, it'll help the community get a little bit behind it a little bit more. I mean, I know our commissioners on both sides of the county lines have been doing great with it. But I talk to people, and they're still not aware of what's going on. So I'm hoping with this, with the logo, they'll be able to attach it to something that it will do what it needs to do. I'm excited."
With close to 50 clubs participating at this weekend's event, the sport of rowing keeps gaining traction around the region and state of Florida.
That popularity has spread to the high school ranks in Manatee County, where rowers from Manatee, Southeast and Palmetto compete annually in various regattas.
And the 2017 World Championships will be the premier event to spotlight the area's rowing facility.
"Rowing has one of the highest scholarship rates for any athlete," Blackketter said. "More specifically for women. So just giving more opportunity for kids to get out there ... more choices for kids, and it's actually a healthier sport in the long run."
The lead up to the championship event also is packaged with the opening of the new Mall at University Town Center next to Benderson Park in October. Following that is the third phase to the project, which is the beginning of a boathouse and finishing tower construction, slated for completion in early 2016.
"We're just taking (a) giant leap in the right direction to making this all happen," Blackketter said. "And we think we have the right support to get to where we need to be by 2016."