SARASOTA — A county park near Interstate 75 and University Parkway was renamed in honor of the patriarch of the Benderson Development Co. LLC after the company and the family pledged $1 million to add amenities for competitive rowing events.
The former Cooper Creek Park, renamed Nathan Benderson Park, includes 200 acres of land and a 400-acre lake, sandwiched between North Honore Avenue and Interstate 75.
Sarasota County officials plan to spend another $5.5 million for improvements over the next two years to extend the lake and transform its grounds into a first-class facility that can host any type of competitive rowing event, said John McCarthy, Sarasota’s general manager for parks and recreation.
“As we have found and demonstrated through two of the rowing events we’ve already held, we are able to attract a tremendous amount of people from out-of-town,” he said of regattas at the park last spring.
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“We had 8,000 people each day on site, we began to hear from hoteliers they were full,” said McCarthy. During one weekend, it was difficult to find a vacant hotel room anywhere in northern Sarasota or southern Manatee County, he said.
“We see this as an opportunity to increase tourism of a type that brings folks here, and while they’re here, they enjoy other amenities,” he added.
The park, which is a former construction borrow pit, sits obscurely behind the site where Benderson plans to build a huge retail-residential-office complex. However, the company has temporarily halted construction at the site at the southwest corner at I-75 and University Parkway until economic conditions improve.
A spin around the park Thursday in a light rain found it without a single walker, jogger, hiker, angler or biker, but it had plenty of feathered inhabitants, such as a giant waterbird that crept serenely along the lake’s shallows.
The park has been under utilized many years, but plans to upgrade its rowing facilities as well as its walkways, running paths, and picnicking facilities could bring a renaissance, said Mark Chait, Benderson’s director of leasing.
“It’s a great amenity for the county and for local users, a great economic boost because of the type of rowing events that are being held here and will be in the future,” he said.
Chait said Nathan Benderson has no interest in rowing, but McCarthy might disagree.
“Nathan Benderson turned 90 the day the park was named for him, and he rides his bike everyday, works out, is an avid fitness buff,” noted McCarthy.
Asked if Benderson might use the park, which is near his home, McCarthy replied, “Absolutely. During the regattas, he was there riding his bike, checking it all out.”