Lakewood Ranch Herald

Construction sails on new Manatee River rowing facility

EAST MANATEE -- Construction on the first phase of an $825,000 rowing training facility is proceeding furiously at Fort Hamer Park, the destination of college rowing teams, which are slated to practice on the Manatee River for the first time this week.

A contingent of the first team was expected to arrive by today from Boston’s Northeastern University, said David Gustafson, county project manager. Five other teams also are slated to train at Fort Hamer Park, south of Parrish, and at two neighboring venues in Sarasota County in upcoming months, he said.

However, not all of the park’s new rowing amenities were complete Tuesday: The boathouse lacked siding and its roof; rest rooms were still under construction, and heavy equipment littered the site.

Many of the workmen had labored through Christmas, they said.

“We were here Christmas Eve,” laughed Todd Radebach, owner of Remco Builders, of Bradenton, whose employees were building new rest rooms.

Still, the most important elements were ready: Racks to store the teams’ boats and a floating dock from which to launch.

Part of Northeastern’s team was expected to arrive late Tuesday or today, and will be staying through Jan. 7; a larger group of the same team is expected to return Feb. 26 - March 5, officials said.

Gustafson emphasized that the partnership between Manatee and Sarasota counties and the Benderson Corp. is crucial to the success of the project.

“It only will be a success if both counties are a success,” Gustafson said. “It’s bigger than both counties.”

The other two venues include a lake at Nathan Benderson Park, at the intersection of I-75 and University Parkway; and a training facility overlooking Sarasota Bay at Osprey, both in Sarasota County.

“Manatee definitely came through with this facility at Fort Hamer Park,” said Paul Blackketter, project manager for Benderson Development Co. “It’s a true partnership,” he added, noting that the popularity of the two-county area for rowing events is “just going to get bigger.”

In addition to Northeastern University, other teams slated to arrive for training include Harvard University, of Cambridge, Mass.; the University of Notre Dame, near South Bend, Ind.; Community Rowing, Brighton, Mass.; River Rowing Association, Nyack, N.Y., and Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Mich., Blackketter said.

Manatee officials are working in conjunction with their Sarasota counterparts, who are planning a race course of about 2,000 meters, called a “sprint course;” boathouses, bleachers, two new hotels, parking and other amenities at Nathan Benderson Park, a former borrow pit located near Interstate 75 and University Parkway.

The Sarasota County Commission approved in concept a master plan for that park that would cost an estimated $25 million to $29 million.

Blackketter said that a team of officials representing an international rowing federation will be coming to the local area in February to help finalize plans for facilities here.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.

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