The Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates, which operates Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota, has filled its leadership vacancy.
The nonprofit organization’s board of directors announced Wednesday that Stephen Rodriguez of the Florida Sports Foundation will take over as chief executive officer next month.
Benderson Park is set to host the 2017 World Rowing Championships in September and October.
“Everything that I’ve learned of the planning for the World Rowing Championships is going well and on track. Obviously, there’s a great staff that’s working on that event full time,” Rodriguez told the Bradenton Herald on Wednesday. “My big focus will be to make sure that we come out after the World Championships with an extremely successful event. We want people to look back and say, ‘Sarasota and Nathan Benderson Park — that was one of the best, if not the best, World Championships that have been held.’”
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Bob Sullivan, who has been CEO of SANCA since August, informed the board in May of his plans to step down. Originally, he planned to step down following the World Rowing Championships, but instead he will vacate his position more than a month ahead of time to let Rodriguez step in.
Rodriguez’s first day with SANCA will be Aug. 7.
“Stephen’s expertise in sports promotion combined with his background marketing the state of Florida as a premier sports destination meshes impeccably with SANCA’s mission,” SANCA board chairman Bill Robinson said in a statement. “We are confident Stephen will propel (Benderson) into the future.”
Rodriguez will join Benderson Park after 18 years with the Florida Sports Foundation, during which he has been responsible for everything from event planning to government relations. He has served as the foundation’s senior vice president since 2010. Currently, he is the longest tenured director of both the Florida Senior Games and the Sunshine State Games, which are operated by the Florida Sports Foundation. The University of Florida alumnus previously worked for the Palm Beach County Sports Commission and Sports Institute and USA Track & Field’s Florida Association.
In Sarasota, he will take over operations at a park responsible for playing host to state, national and international competitions while providing daily services to Sarasota County. The park has a number of significant events scheduled beyond the World Rowing Championships, including the NCAA Division I Rowing Championship and the World Rowing Masters Regatta in 2018. However, one of Rodriguez’s points of emphasis will be expanding the park’s role as a part of daily life in the region.
“It’s something that really can be a centerpiece for Sarasota County and for this area as a place for individuals to gather,” Rodriguez said. “Providing that service is something that really excites me to come down and be involved with, but also to finish growing the park and building it out.
“We want the park utilized and we want people in it all the time. I think that’s really the big part of it is coming up with that plan of how we keep the park utilized and having a service to the community seven days a week.”