It’s been a long wait.
Remember that stalled mega-mall project on the Manatee-Sarasota county line?
A crippling economy forced the developer to put its plans on hold back in 2008 for 1.6 million square feet of upscale retail space, 500 hotel rooms and hundreds of residences.
This week, Benderson Development Co. confirmed that it wants to restart the University Town Center project in the spring.
Benderson has already entered talks with Sarasota County officials on how it would configure space on its prime location at University Parkway and Interstate 75.
Among the major changes Benderson wants to make is moving the two hotels closer to Nathan Benderson Park, an emerging center of competitive rowing.
It makes sense to have those hotels within walking distance of the thousands of athletes and those who accompany them. Previous rowing events have shown they have the potential to attract millions of dollars of business to the area.
Manatee and Sarasota county officials have jumped in with both feet in anticipation that, just maybe, we haven’t seen anything yet.
Such as attracting the best rowers in the world to the local area for international competition.
Rowing’s arrival in this area has led to the creation of a rowing training center at Fort Hamer on the Manatee River, and the formation of rowing teams at Palmetto and Southeast high schools. More are sure to follow.
Sports tourism has thus far been a largely undeveloped resource, but big plans are afoot well beyond the realm of rowing.
Field lights were recently installed at Lakewood Ranch’s Premier Sports Campus, which will allow night play and make the facility even more inviting to soccer, rugby, football, and other sports needing grass fields.
Also at Lakewood Ranch, C&H Baseball has opened a new indoor training facility appealing to athletes ranging from major leaguers to little leaguers.
Pittsburgh Pirates spring training and Marauders baseball are also an important part of the local sports tourism mix.
IMG is a cradle of star athletes for the professional ranks. It will be interesting to see how partnerships develop between IMG and the emerging sports tourism industry.
When Benderson flipped the switch on its University Town Center project this past week, it instantly became one of the biggest stories of the week.
Construction of all that mixed-use space has the potential to create many much-needed jobs, and provide a powerful stimulus to the local economy.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.