Local sports leaders say Sarasota-Bradenton is a true destination, talk about economic impacts

SARASOTA -- The tools for growth that Sarasota-Bradenton has to offer is limitless, Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates President Paul Blackketter said Thursday.

"This place is a true destination," said Blackketter, who leads SANCA, the nonprofit that runs Nathan Benderson Park. "It is no longer Miami. It is no longer Orlando. (Sarasota/Bradenton) is becoming this destination of a place that has an awesome toolkit, and that's exactly what we have."

Blackketter; Antonio Saviano, Premier Sports Campus at Lakewood Ranch director of sports; and David Rovine, Baltimore Orioles-Sarasota vice president, answered questions at a Sarasota County Economic Development Corp. luncheon from Jeff Maultsby, Sarasota County director of business and economic development.

The sports leaders talked about how the three organizations have benefited the area economically and how they can continue doing so.

To attract businesses to the Sarasota area, Saviano said the community must market to the people coming to the area for the different sporting events.

"These people who come own businesses, so we as a venue have given you a tool," he said. "Everybody's job is to show them what the community is and what the area can bring if they are going to relocate businesses over here. ... Let's try to sell our community to some of these businesses that can hopefully move over here and create jobs."

In order to be a leader in sports tourism, the Sarasota-Bradenton area needs more hotels, Saviano said.

"As a community, probably the most important thing to support our venue is probably try to build more hotels in the area," he said. "We had to turn down some very big and important events because there are no hotel rooms. At certain times of the year, you just can't find any."

Blackketter said people want to come to the Sarasota-Bradenton area and the uniqueness of Benderson Park helps.

"When it comes to economic impact, the people that we bring in are becoming more international than ever, by hosting these unique events such as world cups, world pentathlons and so on," he said. "Uniqueness is the one thing that stands out and puts us apart."

Sarasota-Bradenton is a special community, Rovine said.

"This is a great, great community and I only see it growing," he said.

Claire Aronson, University Parkway/Sarasota reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024 or at Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.