The countdown to the 2017 World Rowing Championships at Nathan Benderson Park will officially begin this week as a countdown clock sculpture is unveiled to mark the one-year kickoff to the 2017 World Rowing Championships at Nathan Benderson Park.
“We want to commemorate the fact that we are going to be on that Friday just one year 365 days away from the biggest sport event Sarasota and Manatee counties have ever seen,” said Max Winitz, communications, media and public relations manager for the 2017 World Rowing Championships.
At 10:30 a.m. Friday, the public is invited to Nathan Benderson Park to a free kickoff celebration for the championships, which will be held at the park, 5851 Nathan Benderson Circle, Sarasota, Sept. 24-Oct. 1, 2017. Amanda Polk, who won gold as part of the U.S. Rowing team in this summer’s Olympics, will be speaking at Friday’s kickoff event.
“We are just very excited about it and to get the word out about what is going to happen here in 2017, and it will be a very special day,” Winitz said.
While officials are gathering to celebrate one year from the start of the World Rowing Championships, work on nearby infrastructure as well as accommodations for the athletes and other visitors are still well underway.
Work continues on the state’s first diverging diamond interchange at Interstate 75/University Parkway. Officials say the $74.5 million project, which is expected to be completed in time for the World Rowing Championships, will help alleviate traffic congestion.
The diverging diamond interchange is still on schedule to be complete by next fall, according to Zac Burch, Florida Department of Transportation spokesman.
“We want to make sure that the roadway and interchange are all open,” he said. “There may be some work off the side. The goal is definitely to have it open well before championships if possible.”
An incentive is in place if Prince Contracting completes construction of the interchange by July 24. But due to Hurricane Hermine, this date will be pushed back by a few days, according to Burch. The bonus is worth $5 million.
“They are doing everything they can to meet the goals,” Burch said.
FDOT committed to local elected officials to get the project done before the World Rowing Championships.
“We want to honor our commitment to local government and citizens of the area,” Burch said. “Obviously, when you are talking about an event that is going to bring thousands of people, we want to make sure they have the easiest way to get through there.”
The diverging diamond interchange will help alleviate a lot of the traffic issues that exist around the interchange, Burch said.
“It is going to be a great benefit to people that travel that University corridor,” he said. “A lot of help not only for special events like rowing championships, but people with everyday commutes as well.”
In terms of accommodation preparations, Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, is on the marketing and communications committee for the World Rowing Championships. He notes two important components when it comes to preparing for the athletes’ arrival: transportation and food.
“We need to efficiently get athletes from the different hotel clusters and back,” Falcione said. “It’s a big operation handled by both county transportation departments.”
Many Manatee County hotels are limited service, so most are contracting with local catering companies to feed athletes. World rowing competitors need about 5,000 calories per day during such events, with “lots of carbohydrates and protein required.”
HBC Event Services out of New Mexico is taking care of arranging room block hotels and making sure athletes have a place to stay.
Falcione is not concerned about having enough hotel space for athletes, families, spectators and rowing alumni groups. If Manatee and Sarasota counties run out of space, the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and Visit Sarasota County will reach out to accommodations in Brandon. The drive between most Brandon hotels and Nathan Benderson Park takes roughly 50 minutes.
And as Falcione’s job is to promote Manatee County tourism, he said the opportunity will be ripe for chance to appeal to new visitors.
“I anticipate this being one of the most dynamic and unique world rowing championships these athletes will experience in many years,” he said. “If we can provide a memorable event that they will talk about for years, that’s the kind of social media impressions we’re hoping to gain.”
When Falcione and other county employees made exploratory rowing trips to international countries, Falcione said accommodations were more spread out than they will be for the 2017 event.
“I think this is one of unique locations for world rowing championships with more condensed accommodations,” he said.
Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport is prepared to accommodate what the rowing teams require in terms of commercial or charter services, said airport President and CEO Fredrick “Rick” Piccolo.
“We’d love to see additional flights,” he said. “But it’s up to the airlines. I suspect as we get closer, they’ll add some sections.”
SRQ can also accommodate charters but Piccolo is guessing the rowers and teams will travel primarily on commercial airlines.