During the days before Nathan Benderson Park was ready to showcase its new finish tower to the public, representatives from the International Rowing Federation came to the region to take a pass through the newly completed facility.
Benderson Park cut it close for the start of the 2017 World Rowing Championships. The finish tower is one of the required elements for a park to host the annual event. With only a few months until the competition is scheduled to begin at Benderson, the tower was just being completed. The International Rowing Federation was ready to take a look.
“We could not have hosted the World Rowing Championships without this building and they are thrilled, they’re overwhelmed,” said Meredith Scerba, the executive director of the 2017 World Rowing Championships. “They’re saying, ‘This is the best finish tower in the world.’”
There are fewer than 50 days until the World Rowing Championships finally come to Sarasota, and finally the most crucial piece of infrastructure at Nathan Benderson Park is complete. Sarasota County, the 2017 World Rowing Championships and the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates (SANCA) on Tuesday unveiled the $6 million finish tower deemed necessary by the International Rowing Federation (FISA) to host the world championships.
$6 millionApproximate cost of the new finish tower at Nathan Benderson Park.
The six-story building — including an accessible rooftop and ground-floor plaza — will house a VIP section, broadcasters, race officials and FISA staff members when the world championships come to Nathan Benderson Park from Sept. 23-Oct. 1. When the world championships are complete, FISA’s office space will be converted into full-time offices for SANCA, which currently operates from a temporary trailer at the park.
The funding was entirely provided through private donations made to The Nathan Benderson Community Park Foundation and clocked in just above $6 million, outpacing previous estimates by about $1 million. The tower will also be able to serve as an events center when not occupied by regatta operations.
“We are so grateful, so very grateful to the foundation for this fantastic building and what it will mean to the community in years to come,” said Carolyn Brown, the general manager of Sarasota County’s parks and recreation department, “and then, of course, during our upcoming World Rowing Championships.”
The finish tower was designed by Sarasota architect Guy Peterson in conjunction with Bradenton’s Fawley Bryant Architects. The walls are almost entirely made up of windows, allowing clear sight lines for the entire mile-long course and the surrounding University Town Center area. From the top floors, the skyline of downtown Sarasota is visible.
We are so grateful, so very grateful to the foundation for this fantastic building and what it will mean to the community in years to come.
Carolyn Brown, Sarasota County parks and recreation general manager
This was Peterson’s first foray into designing for rowing. He was teaching graduate design studio at the University of Florida back in 2010 when he was looking for some project to help benefit his hometown. It was suggested he get in touch with Paul Blackketter, who was the president of SANCA at the time. The original plan was to design the boathouse, which is still coming to Nathan Benderson Park after the world championships, so Nathan Benderson paid for Peterson and his students to spend three days in Boston, visiting every boathouse along the Charles River.
“We learned so much,” Peterson said, “and the students came back just totally fired up.”
The priority, though, was a finish tower, and Peterson was eventually tabbed for this new project. With its completion, the 2017 World Rowing Championships have a more tangible reference point than ever.
While there have been some hiccups along the way, Scerba feels the investment in hosting the world championships will still pay off. She estimates $25 million in economic impact and said her staff is anticipating 20,000 hotel room nights to be used by athletes and spectators. The 2017 world championships set a target of 40,000 total tickets sold and an average of 5,000 per day, and Scerba said they are already 63 percent of the way to their goal. Sponsorship sales are now projecting a bit lower than originally anticipated, but Scerba hopes the financial deficit can be made up with ticket sales.
“From Day 1, the goal was purely break even,” Scerba said. “The whole event itself is broken down to ensure that whatever we brought in is supporting what we’re doing.”