UNIVERSITY PARK -- Nathan Benderson Park leaders anticipate more growth for the niche sports venue in the new year.
In between the runs and sculling events that dominate the park, Viking boats, stand-up paddle boards, a bicycling event to raise money for Nate's Honor Animal Rescue and the Modern Pentathlon World Cup in February will be among events to round out the multi-sport venue's schedule in 2015.
"What we developed here is an international venue of international standards and, because of that, we attract a regional, national and international visitor," said Paul Blackketter, president of non-profit Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center, which organizes events for the park.
The park exceeded its estimated economic impact last fiscal year, bringing in $12.9 million worth of spending to the community instead of the projected $8.4 million, he said. For the 2015 fiscal year, which runs
Oct. 1, 2014, through Sept. 30, 2015, a $13-million impact is projected.
"We accomplished half of that with just one event -- the Dragon Boat Festival" in October, he said.
Those economic impact dollars are estimated on what tourists who come to the events and people associated with the event spend in the community in terms of vendors, suppliers, hotel rooms, shopping and dining.
This fiscal year, more than 40 events are scheduled, quite a feat from the two events hosted in 2009. Last fiscal year the park held 25 events. Blackketter has found that simply having more events helps get the park noticed by other people who want to bring their event there.
Eduardo Palomo visited Benderson Park on Dec. 18 to see if it would be the perfect match to bring in another event. Palomo is the president of the El Salvador Olympic Committee, part of the International Olympic Committee Evaluation Committee for 2020 and North America, Central America and Caribbean representative for the World Rowing Association. Needless to say, he has connections.
Palomo said he's considering recommending Benderson Park to host a yet-unnamed event that would be a circuit rowing event where national or club teams would compete against each other, going from Buenos Aires, to Mexico City and Havana and potentially to Sarasota-Bradenton.
Sure, the course still needs its tower, grand stand and boathouse, but the controlled course and the urban environment already makes the park stand out, Palomo said.
"The challenge is to make this the premier spot for competition and have it compete with venues in Europe," he said, wanting to drive Latin America teams to Benderson Park as well.
Palomo's visit wasn't part of an official evaluation, just to see the park for himself after visiting his daughter near Tampa.
"We'd love to take advantage of this facility as much as we can," he said. Palomo plans to recommend the venue to his friends involved with international canoeing, kayaking and triathlon events.
That's what Blackketter likes to hear.
"Our roots are rowing, but we discovered the rowing umbrella is so big that there are so many sports that can fit within it," Blackketter said.
Upcoming events include the Sons of Norway Viking Boat event on Feb. 21, where 10th-century replica Viking boats will participate in a regatta. The Gateway to Florida Lodge hosted a similar event in Jacksonville in August for the Minneapolis-based Sons of Norway.
The race is being billed as the Mary Larsen Regatta honoring the lodge's longtime president who passed away in the spring. The organization plans to hold the event annually, according to the lodge's website.
Nik Wallenda will perform for Circus Sarasota under the big top from Feb. 6-22; on March 13-14, Cirque des Voix will be held at Benderson Park, where Circus Sarasota and Key Chorale combine for a musical circus.
Other major events include the U.S. Rowing Youth National Championship June 12-14. Some 1,500 athletes and 350 crews are expected to compete from all across the country.
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.