During my time at both Sarasota Patch and the Bradenton Herald, I got to learn about the merits of sculling, rowing and whatever other boat-related sport you can have.
The development of what became Nathan Benderson Park into a world caliber venue for aquatic sports—namely sculling and rowing—was a fun journey. It wasn’t without its controversy considering the costs, and it still is and probably will be after the World Rowing Championships finally come to the border of Sarasota and Manatee counties in 2018.
Here’s the downlow on how this all came to be in as much as I can reduce it before you dig into my clips:
-A few folks noticed how perfectly rectangle a old borrow pit that became a lake was and thought, huh, this would be cool to use for rowing.
-These folks talked to Nathan Benderson, the founder of powerful Benderson Development Company, about getting behind this cause. The man, who would ride his bike around this park up until the day he died, was convinced. They just needed to convince Sarasota County.
-The county said sure, they took the money from Benderson after talking to rowing officials that this could work. Benderson also saw how nice it would be considering how much land owns for retail sits just north of it. The lake was expanded for regulation racing over a period of time. A road was expanded and connected for better access.
-Donations were hard to come by through fundraising so the local rowing officials kept asking the State of Florida for millions of dollars to help finish the park and the buildings needed for the championships. (This is still happening in 2016.)
-In 2013, the park was awarded the 2017 World Rowing Championship plus additional events. Construction of the park still has not finished, but some main components are in place.
IMG, Benderson Park named finalists to host NCAA championship events
IMG Academy and Benderson Park have cleared another hurdle in their efforts to bring NCAA national championship events to Manatee and Sarasota counties.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association unveiled its list Thursday of finalists to host championships in 2014-18, and IMG Academy is in the running for Division II baseball, Division II track and field and the Division III football national championships. The football championship game, called the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, was held at Hawkins Stadium in the early 1990s.
“It’d be huge. It’d be great for IMG. It’d be great for the community,” said Gary Pluchino, IMG Performance vice president of business development. “When you look at this stadium, sure we have our events that are being held here. Our football team, our lacrosse team, our track and field team. … It’d be great us, but it’d be great for Bradenton and Manatee/Sarasota.”
Benderson Park, which already has secured the 2017 World Rowing Championships, is also in the running to host the NCAA Division I-III women’s rowing championships.
The NCAA is expected to announce the winning sites in December.
This would be Benderson Park’s first NCAA championship if awarded, said Nicole Rissler, director of sports for the Sarasota County Sports Commission, but the park has held collegiate competition in the past. The bid is a partnership between University of Central Florida, Sarasota County Sports Commission and Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates — the nonprofit that operates the rowing center.
Benderson Park’s competition includes Lake Mercer in West Windsor, N.J.; Indianapolis Rowing Center at Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis; and Sacramento State Aquatic Center in Cold River, Calif. More than 1,000 rowers would participate in the event.
Paul Blackketter, chief executive director of SANCA is cautiously optimistic despite the competition Sarasota faces.
“We’re just trying to stay focused and move forward and not get too overly excited knowing Lake Mercer, Sacramento and Indianapolis are your perennial powerhouses to consider,” Blackketter said.
Rissler and Blackketter are not sure what the next steps are to help secure the bid as this is the first time the NCAA has bid nearly all of its championships at the same time, and this is the first time Benderson Park has bid for a NCAA championship. Both anticipate NCAA officials will need help to make their determination, but Blackketter said he is reaching out to the NCAA to make sure the park follows all guidelines.
Choosing UCF, which has a D-I rowing program, was a natural fit to partner with the bid because the college has been at the park since its inception, and was part of the first regatta at Benderson Park, Blackketter said. Park officials considered partnering with University of Miami, but opted to go with a school they’ve worked with for a long time, he said.
The bids are for the 2014-18 championship seasons, and while it’s possible one year could be awarded, Blackketter said he understands the bid is to host three years.
This would serve as a great preview and test run for the World Rowing Championships and having been awarded the world championships has created buzz for more events to come to Benderson Park, Blackketter said.
“Since winning the world bid, we get about three inquiries a week of new colleges and teams and events that want to come to the venue,” he said. “It’s pretty wonderful — it’s exploding, it’s awesome.”
Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said IMG is driving the surge of sporting venue interest from the NCAA and others.
“Having an elite sports academy like IMG will no doubt bring our community many national and international events that will drive economic development for our area,” he said. “This type of sports business helps us sustain visitation on a year-round basis, resulting in job growth and business development.”
IMG is in competition with Cary, N.C., and Stockton, Calif., for the baseball championship and 10 other locales for the track and field meet. Its competition for the Stagg Bowl are Salem, Va., and Shenandoah, Texas.
IMG could be a finalist for even more national championships. The NCAA did not release finalists for all the championships up for grabs.
Now attention turns to impressing the NCAA.
“There will probably be a site visit,” Pluchino said. “The NCAA will probably be coming down here. … The finalists will all be visited by the NCAA. We’ll be talking with them about business plan for the event, operational cost, revenue, that sort of thing. And then they will make their decision from there.”
Dragon Boat festival coming to Benderson Park, first time in U.S.
SARASOTA — An international dragon boat festival coming to Nathan Benderson Park next year will feature thousands of breast cancer survivors racing, and organizers are putting a call out to survivors in Manatee and Sarasota to form a team.
It will be the first time the International Breast Cancer Paddlers Commission’s Participatory Dragon Boat Festival is held in the United States, said Kim Bonomo,
president and co-chair of the 2014 festival, and president of Miami-based Save Our Sisters dragon boat organization. The international events are done on a four-year rotating basis, with national and regional events in between.
More than 3,000 breast cancer survivors from 12 countries will descend on Benderson Park from Oct. 24-26, 2014.
“When Sarasota-Bradenton see these pink paddlers, they’re going to be so moved because it is such a feel-good thing to see these women fighting a deadly disease, pick themselves up and going on with life,” Bonomo said.
Dragon boat paddling for breast cancer survivors was started in 1996 by Canadian Dr. Don McKenzie, who wanted to prove that the exercise from paddling could have benefits for breast cancer survivors, according to the International Breast Cancer Paddling Commission website. The international events have been held in Vancouver, Caloundra, Australia and Peterborough, Canada.
“The mission of a breast cancer dragon boat team is to offer a chance to recover from breast cancer and regain their passion, to regain their confidence — to take them from being a survivor to a thriver,” Bonomo said.
As part of the preparation for the 2014 event, Sarasota resident and breast cancer survivor Angela Long is heading up efforts to form a team with Sarasota and Bradenton area breast cancer survivors.
“This kind of gives women permission to join a support group and take action rather than sit and feel sorry for themselves,” Long said. “They’re proactive. They’re living life because that’s what it’s all about.”
The group will start practicing this October on land and water, each Saturday and one session during the week, said Long, who is helping with the international festival and is president of the advocacy group Breast Investigators.
The group of about 50 rowers and volunteers will help raise money and seek sponsors to help defray costs of supplies and the race itself, Long said.
The festival also hopes to play a part in the opening of the nearby Mall at University Town Center on North Cattleman Road, which is expected to open its doors on Oct. 14, 2014, just days before the festival, Bonomo said. Organizers are working on forming a relationship with Saks Fifth Avenue, one of the mall’s anchors, for the event.
What is a dragon boat, anyway?
“It’s a 40-foot-long canoe-type vessel that seats 20 paddlers, tandem, with a coxswain, which is your steersman, and a drummer who sits on the side,” Bonomo said.
Rowers paddle facing forward as opposed to sculls, which are rowed backward, she added. The boats usually feature ornate dragons for a figurehead, and the rowers themselves in the Breast Cancer Paddlers events are donned in their best pink apparel.
“Dragon boating is a really down-to-earth, kick-ass sport,” Bonomo said. “It’s hard to master, but it’s easy to do. I could give you 10 minutes of instruction and could put you out on a boat and you’d have fun.”
A wide range of ages and physical ability can participate, Long said, and though muscles are helpful in rowing, brute strength is not key for dragon boats.
“It seems to be a sport of timing and strength,” Long said.
The economic impact of the event is beginning to be realized. It is expected to generate 8,000 room nights at area hotels, and because of the festival atmosphere, Bonomo and Long were at a U.S. Tent event last week to scout for their needs for the festival and network with area businesses. The event needs more than 100 team tents for the festival area, Bonomo said, plus hospitality tents for opening and closing ceremonies, areas for seminars and a vendor village.
“We picked Sarasota-Bradenton because it has that small-town feel, yet it has that infrastructure that can handle something like this,” Bonomo said. A delegation of people from Miami’s Save Our Sisters and Tampa’s Pink Dragon Ladies considered other locations, but liked the receptiveness from area officials to have the festival in Sarasota, she added.
Bonomo has praised Benderson Park for the work so far, and thinks that after the 2014 event when the rest of the venue is complete, a national Breast Cancer Paddlers event could be held at the park, and help expose the park to other dragon boat organizations that could bring events here. About 150 breast cancer dragon boat teams exist in the world, she said, and about 2,000 regular dragon boat teams in the world with competitive and masters abilities.
Volunteers and sponsors are still needed for the Dragon Boat Festival itself. To get involved, email email@example.com or call 305-776-5016.
2016 Olympic trials could be test event for Benderson Park
SEPTEMBER 5, 2013
SARASOTA — The rowing campaign is not over yet for Nathan Benderson Park.
Now that the 2017 World Rowing Championship is guaranteed, the delegation has to secure a test event in 2016.
It’s an Olympic year so the test event could be an U.S. Olympic trials, Glen Merry, chief executive officer of U.S. Rowing, told the Herald at an event Wednesday for Benderson Park, 2500 N. Honore Ave.
The 2016 Olympics will be held in Rio de Janeiro Aug. 5 to 21, which would throw off the schedule for a regular world or national FISA-sanctioned test event, Merry said, so an Olympic trials event could be an option in early 2016.
U.S. Rowing has not submitted a bid for the Olympic trials yet for 2016, Merry said, and an announcement is expected to be made at the end of 2014.
“We’ve been very interested pursuing this location,” Merry said.
U.S. Rowing is also considering other options for a test event. A 2012 Olympic trials event at Mercer County Park in New Jersey was televised nationally on NBC, Merry said.
“In an Olympic year, it’s difficult to get people to break out of their normal transition from Europe to World Cups, off to Rio for the Olympics,” Merry said. “So, you may be looking at an international event, we may be looking at U.S. Rowing partnering to create a new international event. We may be taking one of our existing large national events as a test event.”
Paul Blackketter, chief executive of Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Association, said the 2016 Olympics would
have a tremendous impact on Benderson Park and Fort Hamer Park, 1605 Fort Hamer Road, Parrish.
“Because of Rio de Janeiro and everything else, we’re going start seeing the teams of the likes of Great Britain, Germany, actually training in this area,” he said. “Fort Hamer plays a major supporting role of that venture.”
That event would have a separate budget from the 2017 regatta, Merry said.
In order to get there, SANCA, the nonprofit that will operate the rowing venue, has to raise about $15 million to build the grandstand, boathouse and other remaining facilities, as well as the $7.7 million operating budget for the games.
The first step will be the boathouse where sculls will be stored, Blackketter said.
“We’re already moving forward with the actual schematic drawings and everything else, so when we go and start fundraising, we actually have a building that they can understand and see how that’s all laid out with a business plan attached to it.”
The boathouse will be open to the public once they join a rowing club, Blackketter said.
“The only time that the island will be closed off is under big regattas. It’s for security and other different reasons,” he said. “We’ll occupy the whole island for the event. You have to be able to run successful events without conflict, but once we’re not having an event, it reverts back to a public park.”
The goal is to have the structures in place by 2015-16 for the test event, he said.
While rowing receives the most attention during Olympic years, a U.S.-held international championship has the opportunity to create a boom for the sport, Merry said.
The 1994 World Rowing Championships in Indianapolis helped spur rowing clubs to increase from 388 that year to 1,200 clubs today, taking U.S. Rowing to more of an international organization for the sport, he said, in addition to the NCAA adding women’s rowing to its sports.
Interest from the international rowing community in Sarasota-Bradenton has already started, Sarasota County Commissioner Joe Barbetta said.
“The world is coming to Sarasota-Bradenton,” Barbetta said.
Interest in athletes coming to the area has already begun, too, he added.
“We had all kinds of inquiries — how do we get there, where are you located — we are seeing e-mails coming in right now,” Barbetta said.
“They’re going to start training here. They’re going to come and scout the area out. This is going to just blossom into one of the most incredible things you’ve ever seen, both as a sport and also the economic development that will come out of this.”
Manatee-Sarasota awarded World Rowing Championship
SEPTEMBER 1, 2013
CHUNGJU, SOUTH KOREA — In an unanimous decision Sunday night the FISA board awarded Manatee-Sarasota counties the World Rowing Championship in 2017.
Emotions were running high among the local contingent, who applauded the leaders who have been working to bring the championship here for more than three years when there were at one time nine cities contending.
Paul Blackketter, who led the effort, said a community partnership made everything come together.
“It’s such an honor, we’re all so touched,” said Randy Benderson, president of Benderson Development. “The team worked together over endless hours. Paul has done an amazing job. To go from a total of nine contenders three years ago: we’re sort of pinching ourselves. We can’t believe it. It’s very emotional.”
Winning the bid means more than a high profile on a world stage. It also means pumping millions of tourism dollars into the local economy and more jobs for area workers as the region prepares for as many as 100,000 visitors to descend in 2017.
After waiting nervously for the vote, area leaders were elated to get a unanimous decision, despite concerns raised about hurricane season. It is the first time in more than 20 years the United States will play host to the World Rowing Championship.”We have so much to be proud of today,” said Manatee County Commission Chairman Larry Bustle, who was in Korea for the announcement. “This news would not have been possible without the incredible commitment and vision of the tourist development councils and county commissions from both Manatee and Sarasota counties and without the extraordinary focus and dedication of staff.”
With this week’s announcement comes an immediate spotlight on the area.
“Over the next four years, the Sarasota-Bradenton area will have the rare opportunity to showcase globally how beautiful our destination is to visit,” said Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It is truly great to see how two communities can jointly set a goal and accomplish that goal by working in a diligent and unselfish manner. We believe that this type of event will no doubt generate future business and real estate opportunities in our community that is vital to our future economy; that’s what makes this accomplished objective so special.”
Officials from Manatee, Sarasota and the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates will hold a press conference Wednesday at Nathan Benderson Park to celebrate and discuss the championship.
Blackketter told Sarasota County officials in an e-mail the championship likely will take place the last week of September in 2017.
“This is just a fantastic accomplishment to be able to host the championship for the first time since 1994,” said Glenn Merry, chief executive officer of USRowing Association, which oversees the sport of rowing in the United States.
“It puts Sarasota-Bradenton on the map of serious Olympic-level sports, not just for rowing, but for triathlon, marathon swimming and canoe-kayak,” he said. “I think it will continue to bolster the community’s economy, and bring more people to Sarasota-Bradenton for competition and training camps.”
The 2017 World Rowing Championship is projected to attract at least 42,000 athletes, coaches and fans to the county and be broadcast worldwide to 130 million viewers, according to Sarasota County officials. Many of those guests will be staying at Manatee County hotels, as the event is expected to generate 40,000 room nights.
Officials from the world championship in South Korea said over the eight-day championship this year, there was “a record 157,000 spectators.”
“SANCA and county staff from Manatee and Sarasota counties will continue to work diligently to make 2017 not only an international rowing event, but an international success story,” said Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker. “This effort has become a true model of public-private partnership and regional collaboration. It’s remarkable to see what we can accomplish when everyone works toward the same end.”
More than 1,500 Olympic-caliber athletes from more than 70 countries are expected to compete. The international competition, a precursor to the Olympic Games, will be broadcast to a worldwide television audience of 130 million people.
“It’s an absolute fantastic opportunity for Sarasota and Manatee County to bring the world to our region and show the world what our communities have to offer,” said Bob Whitford, manager of Nathan Benderson Park.
Whitford, a rower and former coach, said he will focus on the event venue and supporting the operational needs of the rowing federation.
“I’m extraordinarily excited about what Nathan Benderson Park has done for our community, and the people of our county,” he said. “It will be a tremendous crown jewel.”
Attendees at the official announcement Sept. 2 in Seoul, South Korea, included officials from Sarasota County, Manatee County, Visit Sarasota County, Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates and the U.S. Rowing Association. The commitment by Sarasota and Manatee counties, SANCA and the support of USRowing convinced FISA’s world congress that returning to the United States for the World Championship was the correct vote.
Area officials were able to assuage fears about hurricanes in order to win the championship.
“We provided all the data to FISA demonstrating that in later September our rain drops off, temperatures are cooler, less hurricanes and less humidity. Most likely FISA may settle on the last week of September, but we will still pushed October,” Blackketter wrote to commissioners. “The bottom line, FISA has all the facts regarding our weather and they will make a very intelligence decision on this. We will keep everyone posted; we are sending FISA weekly weather updates from now to end of October down to the hour so an educated decision is made.”
More than $40 million in public and private-sector funds have been committed to help transform a former borrow pit into Nathan Benderson Park, the premier rowing venue in North America, capable of staging an Olympic-caliber event.
Sarasota County’s $19.5 million investment comes from a tourist development tax paid by visitors to the area. Those funds have paid for the first two phases of the park’s transformation.
Phase III of the project, construction of a state-of-the-art boathouse, timing towers, grandstands and other amenities, will be funded by SANCA and corporate support.
“Everyone has faith in us, they believe in us and we’re going to do an amazing job,” Benderson said.
In addition to the commitment of state and local elected officials and the community, FISA officials cited the park’s proximity to Interstate 75, Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport, calm waters, and year-round good weather as reasons for choosing Nathan Benderson Park.
The United States has more than a quarter of a million rowers competing domestically and internationally.
Leading up to 2017, several races will serve as benchmarks to see if the region is ready to row.
“The first will be the 2014 Dragon Boat Festival, and that will be the first major international event that we’ll have here with more than 2,500 paddlers from around the world and upwards of 3,500 total people,” Visit Sarasota County’s Director of Sports Nicole Rissler told the Herald. The event also provides a dry run for a to-be-determined 2016 international rowing event.
From pit to park
The vision of a park at an old borrow pit at 2500 Honore Ave., used for gathering rock for road pavement at one time, started when Sarasota County purchased the park for $2.2 million from APAC-Florida, Inc. The park, called North Metro Park, was later renamed Cooper Creek Park for the creek that filled the pit turning it into a 300-acre lake.
Benderson Development Co. submitted plans for the University Town Center next the to park in 2005, setting up the vision for the Mall at University Town Center with housing, office space, additional retail and hotels all tied into the park. The initial proposal was approved in 2007 and has undergone many changes and stops and starts. As part of the proposal, Benderson submitted a master plan for Cooper Creek Park that led to upgrades to the glorified fishing hole filled with alligators. The county and development company managed to stage its first two regattas in 2009 as Sarasota County committed $250,000 to help bring the competitions to the park.
Benderson Development, under the direction of Blackketter and founder Nathan Benderson, who passed away in 2012, continued to work with Sarasota County officials and world rowing experts to transform Cooper Creek Park into an international rowing course. The county and Benderson also entered in a shared use agreement for the northern 101 acres to develop the rowing course.
Blackketter, a Manatee County native and resident, helped form Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Association in 2010 to help oversee the day-to-day rowing operation and the venue’s development.
That same year, Benderson Development paid $1 million for naming rights to the venue, and the park was renamed Nathan Benderson Park in honor of the donation. The late Benderson could often be seen riding his bike through the park and enjoyed the atmosphere and understood what the rowing venue would mean to his University Town Center.
So far, Sarasota County has committed $19.5 million in bed taxes, paid for by hotel and resort guests during their stay, to construct the first two phases of the rowing venue with help of an additional $10 million from the state, which paid for the wave attenuation system, access bridge to the island and other land development and amenities.
In 2012, the lake was dredged and extended 200 meters to allow 2,000-meter races and international competition. Work then began on extending Cattleman Road and adding a bridge to serve the venue.
The four-lane Cattleman Road extension was paid for through a $13 million federal stimulus award and the remaining $1.5 million was paid by Benderson through a local development agreement, according to Sarasota County officials.
Dredge material from the lake and dirt from the construction of the Mall at University Town Center helped build what is now known as Regatta Island, where much of the rowing celebratory events and launches will take place. A tower for FISA to officiate the races still has to be built on the island along with grandstands, parking and a boat house for storage. SANCA will pay $15 million for improvements expected to be completed by 2015, through corporate sponsorships.
More public money for the park is always a possibility. When Gov. Rick Scott visited Benderson Park in August, he didn’t rule out an option to provide more state funding for the venue because it created jobs and supports the state’s tourism goals.
The park’s west shore will feature an ornamental grass garden, natural playground, butterfly garden, water garden, fitness centers and a second pocket park is expected to be built north of the return canal near the Mall at UTC.
By 2017, the park is expected to be built out with bustling activity expected from the Mall at UTC, which will open October 2014, as well as the growing housing and retail complex beside the venue.
Production and bidding
Beyond the $40 million for the rowing venue and $14 million on Cattleman Road spent by a mix of local, state and federal tax revenues and private money, Sarasota and Manatee also chipped in to pay for the bidding process and have to pay for the operating budget for the games.
Just to land the games, each county budgeted $2.782 million, up from an original $1.1 million each, to pay for traveling to international events and hosting officials here at various events through 2017, sending officials to international regattas to study logistics and promote the local games. In all, Manatee and Sarasota counties will be fronting 72 percent of the $7.7 million operating budget for the 2017 championship.
The agreement limits county contributions from “bed taxes” generated by tourists and use of other legally available funds as well as in-kind services. That money will be reimbursed by SANCA, mainly through selling television and broadcasting rights and other commercial rights.
Organizers are banking on bringing in nearly $995,000 in ticket sales for the event. So far, tickets are expected to be sold for $80 to VIPs, $40 for grandstand seats and $20 for general admission.
Among the eight pages of operating expenses listed, SANCA is budgeted to spend $1 million to build compounds and production centers for TV, print and online media, $100,000 to rent a large video board and hire technicians, $126,000 to bus spectators, $128,000 on various boats for TVs, umpires, emergency workers and workers, $32,329 for testing athletes for banned substances and $303,757 for the opening and closing ceremonies, a dinner for all the athletes and parties for the jury, FISA officials and media.
The two counties may contribute in-kind services at their discretion.
Benderson Development agreed to provide a “financial backstop” for the nonprofit foundation’s obligations, according to Manatee County Assistant County Attorney Bill Clague.
Staff writer Sabrina Rocco contributed to this report.
If Manatee-Sarasota win World Rowing Championship bid, the work begins
SARASOTA — Rowing supporters here have operated for years under the “Field of Dreams” philosophy: “If you build it, they will come.”
Now, as local officials are putting the finishing touches on Nathan Benderson Park’s official rowing competition course, area leaders are gathering in South Korea to find out Sept. 2 whether Sarasota will be awarded the 2017 World Rowing Championships.
If the Sarasota-Manatee area is chosen, it will set off a flurry of activity because it takes more than building a rowing course to welcome the world.
“We’ve planned this facility to always be able to host a World Rowing Championship, so it won’t be a surprise,” said Nicole Rissler, director of sports for Visit
Sarasota County. “But when they make the announcement, it will certainly be go-time for us to finish the final phases and get ready.”
Athletes will need special meals, hotels need to plan to modify their operations and fans need an easy way to get to the beach. All of that planning is already in motion, and if the International Rowing Federation awards the region the games, there will be a shotgun start to finish every small detail that goes into producing the event.
Today marks the first day of the 2013 World Rowing Championships, as the first wave of Sarasota and Manatee officials arrive in Chungju, South Korea, to see what it takes to put on this world event. While organizers will get a first-hand look of what it takes to put on a championship, much of the groundwork has been laid.
When the time comes for rowers, their families and spectators from around the world to descend on Nathan Benderson Park, Visit Sarasota County plans to pull out all the stops to impress their guests.
“We expect to roll out the red carpet,” Rissler said.
The games cannot be successful without the help of students and staff at the University of South Florida, Sarasota-Manatee. Cihan Cobanoglu, professor and dean of the College of Hospitality & Technology Leadership, estimates 500 students who participated in his college will help out in 2017.
Cobanoglu believes the region is in good shape now for three most important factors: lodging, food and transportation.
Both counties have plenty of hotel rooms when taking into account planned hotels and new construction that would be completed for 2017, he said. But there is a shortage of full-service hotels that provide three meals a day.
Cobanoglu has a way to solve both the food problem and the hotel issue: provide pre-planned catering menus and set up those services in the limited hotels to turn them into temporary full-service hotels that cater particularly to athletes and their families.
“We said this is not a difficult problem,” Cobanoglu said. “Our hospitality school has experts in nutrition and food management and food planning. We will be happy to help create some set menus.”
The menus will include food for local and international palates, as well as athletes, and will include calorie counts so the rowers can keep tabs on their competition diets.
“I sincerely believe this can happen because this is how all Olympics are done, and how big sports and entertainment events are handled,” Cobanoglu said. “You create temporary kitchens and catering establishments to be able to feed people in large quantities.”
The larger events within the championship is a grand dinner for participating nations, Rissler said, as well as opening and closing ceremonies and parties for the FISA jury, media and other groups.
Cobanoglu expects USF to have a strong presence in helping to execute the event before, during and after, to make sure everything runs smoothly. Some of that work includes a partnership with Benderson Development Co., he said, where students are placed directly in Benderson-owned hotels and other facilities to hone their hospitality skills.
The Masters Nationals offered a glimpse of impressive hospitality, said Paul Blackketter, president of Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates, the organization in charge of organized rowing in Sarasota-Manatee.
“We’re getting a lot of comments that the hospitality that our area provided to the rowers went beyond their expectations,” he said. “Everybody knew that they were in town and wanted them to have an incredible experience.”
Over time, a research firm will visit Benderson Park to survey guests there to collect data that can be used to help plan for 2017, said Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“Our goal is to have a research firm survey people at Nathan Benderson Park when they come in to really get a gauge for what their impression is, what they like to do, how we can do things better,” Falcione said.
Figuring out transportation
Transportation to the park at 2500 N. Honore Ave. along University Parkway needs to be addressed and improved, Cobanoglu said. But he is confident both county services — Manatee County Area Transit and Sarasota County Area Transit — can collaborate to provide special routes and meet the needs of visitors from around the globe.
SCAT has been planning a permanent route that will help Sarasota visitors as part of its plan to add routes for students to get to area colleges, and future employees and shoppers at the Mall at University Town Center set to open next year, said Glama Carter, transit general manager for SCAT.
The two-bus route will start on U.S. 41, and will serve Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport and areas along University Parkway to University Town Center and Benderson Park.
SCAT will present the proposed route, which is expected to cost between $600,000 and $700,000 per year, to the Sarasota County Commission for approval Tuesday, Carter said. She is confident the board will OK the proposal.
“The board recognizes the importance of this championship and the need of having a direct route between the airport and University Town Center facilities,” she said. “When families of athletes come to town, they will look forward to having transportation and going to hotels and restaurants freely without having to rent a car.”
SCAT is also in the midst of a partnership with Benderson Development to design a transfer station that will be located at the northeast corner of North Cattlemen and DeSoto roads.
Carter anticipates that MCAT will meet SCAT at that location to provide services east and west.
Tourism officials also want to provide unique first impressions and experiences for the event, Falcione said, and that might be in the form of special beach shuttles.
“We want to come up with a mechanism to offer a way that we can get athletes and their families to our beautiful beaches while they’re in the destination,” Falcione said.
One of those options could be a shuttle service to Siesta Key and Coquina Beach, he added.
“We want to do things that are unique compared to the norm for events like this,” he said.
The small four-day regatta, U.S. Rowing’s Masters National Championships, brought in about 1,000 rowers plus 500 spectators and event staff to eat, shop, sleep and play in the two-county region this month. It served as more of an amuse-bouche to the feast of rowing competitions to come.
“The first will be the 2014 Dragon Boat Festival, and that will be the first major international event that we’ll have here with over 2,500 paddlers from around the world and an upwards of 3,500 total people,” Rissler said. The event also provides a dry run for a to-be-determined 2016 international rowing event.
“That will be designated in the coming months by FISA once the bid is awarded,” Rissler said.
Sarasota’s chief competitor for the 2017 games was Plovdiv, Bulgaria, but the FISA Council recommended that city be awarded the 2018 World Rowing Championships and 2015 Under-23 Championships.
The 2017 World Championships will be spread over 15 to 17 days, likely during peak tourist season around March, creating a better opportunity to draw more spectators with a $25 million economic impact.
Tourism officials from Sarasota County expect that the event will draw more than 40,000 people, or about as much as a sold-out Tampa Bay Rays game at Tropicana Field.
“We’re really trying to draw additional spectators from around the world, but we’re really also pulling domestically,” Rissler said. “There’s nothing we want more than the international rowers to see how excited we are to have the competition back.”
The Masters Nationals, with an early estimated $800,000 to $1 million impact, served as a good launch to create momentum for the larger regattas.
“All the indicators are pointing in our direction — especially coming off the cuff of a very successful Masters event,” Blackketter said. “Two FISA members were there and basically walked away saying ‘Great job.'”
Even with that, U.S. Rowing said this Masters National event was smaller than others; some rowers were already on their way to the World Rowing Championship in South Korea during the Sarasota event.
“Overall, we were very pleased with the event. In terms of entries, it was a smaller Masters National than we’ve had in recent years, due to conflicts with Canadian Henley and World Masters in Italy,” said Allison Frederick, spokeswoman for U.S. Rowing. “But we were delighted to see that some of the larger clubs in the Northeast made the trip down to Sarasota. It was a good representation of masters rowing in the U.S.”
Blackketter cites three things that organizers did exceptionally well during the recent regatta: The wave attenuator that was recently installed kept the water calm; the event’s Internet broadcasting drew worldwide viewers; and the hospitality that rowers received was remarkable.
He also hopes to adopt wakeless launches for vessels such as catamaran boats, which referees and officials would use instead of the jon boats.
“Jon boats are small, cumbersome, simply uncomfortable and not easy to operate,” Blacketter said. “And they also put on a pretty good wake.”
On the down side, Blackketter was unhappy with so many rain delays to construction at Benderson Park. SANCA, Blackketter’s rowing association, has about two years to finish the remaining construction, and still has to raise another $15 million for the venue.
So far, the park has received a sizable chunk of tourism tax dollars from state and local agencies to help complete the park. The state put $5 million in this year’s budget to fund continued construction, and during a recent visit Gov. Rick Scott seemed open to providing more funds. The state also previously committed a $5 million grant to the park for the wave attenuation system.
“It’s all about the budget. We’re moving towards the wakeless launches. It’s just a matter of time,” Blackketter said.
The layout of festivities will change over time as well. Boaters and vendors shuffled from shore to shore at Benderson Park while the Regatta Island was constructed last year.
The rows of vendors and viewing areas will continue to shift as Regatta Island will turn into a miniature city with covered grandstands on the western edge of the island along with the tower for rowing officials. Concept plans have shown temporary island layouts as it undergoes a transformation to the permanent buildings to be constructed for 2016 and 2017.
A boat house will be built on the southern edge, providing a more organized area for rowers to store equipment and prepare to launch.
That is all contingent upon SANCA’s ability to raise the needed funds, but there is always a possibility of more public money or grants. Failing another state budget contribution, SANCA is left to privately raise the remaining $15 million-plus to complete construction.
Trying to pull off the championships means that two visitor bureaus, two county commissions, two transit agencies, state legislators, a governor, a university, a major developer, local, national and international rowing federations plus countless volunteers and businesses all had to cooperate.
Cobanoglu, a native of Turkey, hasn’t seen that much cooperation in his world travels.
“I have been with a lot of organizations, but I’ve never seen this wonderful collaboration between two counties,” Cobanoglu said.
Maybe a small percentage of the visitors and athletes will consider moving to the Sarasota-Manatee area, but at the least, Cobanoglu is certain they’ll come back again to say hello.
“I’m very confident that 10 to 20 percent of people who come to Sarasota for rowing will come back to this area for years to come,” Cobanoglu said.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott reaffirms support for rowing in Sarasota-Manatee
SARASOTA — Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday reaffirmed his commitment to Nathan Benderson Park as a rowing venue as international rowing officials are deciding if Sarasota-Manatee will host the 2017 World Rowing Championships.
Scott, who once vetoed funding for the rowing park, attended a VIP gathering at the park Thursday morning during the U.S. Rowing Masters National Championship where he left open the door for more public money to be committed to the project.
“It makes sense,” Scott said about now supporting the venue.
Scott said he will “always look at every project” for public funding.
“What I focus on is making sure we can get a return,” Scott told the Bradenton Herald. “As long as we can get a return for taxpayers, I’m interested in these projects.”
The state budgeted $5 million in this year’s budget to fund continued construction for the rowing venue. The state also previously committed another $5 million to the park.
Sarasota County Commission committed $19.5 million in tourist development taxes, or bed taxes paid by hotel guests, to Benderson Park, which included $8.5 million for dredging and filling the lake to build Regatta Island; and $11 million for landscaping and park amenities. The boathouse, rowing officials towers and grandstands are to be paid by private donations through the non-profit Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates, which organizes rowing in the two-county area.
Officials from the International Rowing Federation, or FISA, are in attendance at Benderson Park this weekend to give one last look before deciding Sept. 2 if the venue will be awarded both the 2016 World Rowing Cup and 2017 World Rowing Championships. Sarasota County estimates a $24-million economic impact in its county for the 10-day event.
U.S. Rowing CEO Glenn Merry is confident the World Rowing Championships will be awarded to Sarasota-Manatee.
“We will secure the vote to bring the championships here,” Merry said.
The University Park and Lakewood Ranch area could be home to the largest rowing event outside of the Olympics if a bid to lure the 2017 World Rowing Championships is successful.
The Manatee County Commission gave the OK on Tuesday to bid for the world rowing championship, the Bradenton Herald reported:
“This event would mean so much more than the $25 million economic impact” over 13 days in September 2017, said Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “This will brand our course, and give it the credibility worldwide for future sports championships.”
The Sarasota County Commission on Feb. 13 approved a plan to bid for the championships operated by the Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d’Aviron, or International Rowing Federation. The event would be held in Nathan Benderson Park, located in Sarasota County, near University Parkway and Interstate 75.
Sarasota County Commissioners on Wednesday, Feb. 27 also approved to provide Visit Sarasota County with $245,000 in additional tourism dollars for sports marketing for the event.
“I’m hoping we can get it,” Sarasota County Commissioner Christine Robinson said. “We sure need to try and make those efforts. I’m really looking forward to winning that bid.”
However, before they come, you must build it. The Florida World Aquatic Sports Center, as the Nathan Benderson Lake rowing facility is being called, right now includes the lake, a dock and some movable bleachers.
The bid for the 2017 World Rowing Championship is being submitted by the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Association, a non-profit also in charge of fund-raising $20 million to build the rowing stadium. Right now, Benderson Development is working to construct an island in the lake as part of the project beside the earth movers trying to lay the foundation for The Mall at University Town Center.
Virginia Hayley, president of Visit Sarasota County, told The Herald-Tribune knows it is a challenge:
“You don’t want to reach too far, too soon,” she said. “But to be honest I believe that pushing 2017 really makes sure we get the project done. It doesn’t languish for another 20 years. And in a way it makes it sexier to sell to potential corporate sponsors because you can see the impact of your donations.”
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If that fails, a temporary venue can be built for $5 million, the Herald-Tribune reported.
The 2017 championships are estimated to cost $6 million, and Visit Sarasota County officials expect that a “significant portion of this budget can be raised through ticket sales, merchandise, hotel room rebates and commissions and corporate sponsors.”
In 2012 dollars, Sarasota and Manatee County would see nearly $13 million in direct spending by athletes, coaches, officials and visitors, according to a Visit Sarasota County Board of Directors report.
Visit Sarasota County estimates that 42,000 visitors will come here for the championships in addition to about 1,200 athletes and 973 coaches from 62 countries, producing 40,000 room nights generated for hotel stays.
More than 126 million people viewed the championships on television, which heightens the importance of getting a good television rights deal to help pay for the expenses involved with hosting the championships, according to a Visit Sarasota report.
Sarasota and Manatee’s cost for the bid includes largely world travel during fiscal 2013, sending officials to Switzerland, Korea, Sydney and the United Kingdom to attend World Cup events, meeting with the sports’ officials governing body and to bid in person for the award. Each year, the delegation would travel to two rowing events and host FISA officials at Nathan Benderson Park.
Manatee County will use Tourist Development Council funds to pay for the $1.1 million for the championship, the Bradenton Herald reported, while Sarasota County will pay its $1.17 million in Tourist Development Tax and marketing funds, according to a Visit Sarasota County report.
“This is not being paid by our local taxpayer dollars,” Sarasota County Commissioner Joe Barbetta said. “None of your property tax dollars are being used for this.”
The costs for bid and event fees are split in half between the two counties, but the travel costs are dependant on which county officials are travelling, Hayley said.
“It’s a shared spirit that all of this is being met,” she said.
The 200-meter deficit that separated Sarasota from being a premier rowing destination is no longer a barrier.
After months of excavating and expanding the old quarry lake at Nathan Benderson Park, there is now 2,000 meters of straightaway to host official sprint events from around the state, and if all goes to plan by 2017, the World Rowing Championships.
Benderson Development Co. celebrated Friday the expansion of the lake from 1,800 meters to 2,000 meters at a community barbecue at the park while also signaling the beginning of the next phases for the park.
The first 2,000-meter race, the Florida Scholastic Rowing Association Sculling Championships, is set for April 15.
Sarasota County approved plans March 14 for the park and to spend an additional $19.5 million on the project while state lawmakers allocated $5 million for the project. This is already in addition to $13.7 million in federal stimulus money and $1.5 million from Manatee County government.
What folks driving by the park will see is work on Regatta Island begin, using fill from the North Cattleman Road extension begin this month and hopefully be finished by next year, said Paul Blackketter, Benderson’s lead man on the park.
“By this time next year, we’ll be able to run our regattas off Regatta Island,” Blackketter said. What that means is that boats will use that base as a launching and recovery point as the docks will be centered there.
“That’s going to be a huge deal since we’re going to be hosting the National Masters’ Championship this time next year,” he added.
Phase II is the first layer of “icing on the cake” Blackketter noted, having walking and running trails around the lake and adding landscaping, even with help from the Boy Scouts planting trees.
Phase III is the vertical phase, building a boathouse, grandstands and everything to host a world championships. By the end of all of all the work, the park’s venue will be called the Florida World Aquatic Center.
The park is busy as it is, perhaps somewhat surprising in its raw form.
About 250 to 300 volunteers ranging from 16 year old to 85 years old help out at events right now, said John Krotec, volunteer organizer the Regatta Organizing Committee at the park. About 1,200 volunteers help during the year for the various high school, college and regional competitions.
“Right not it’s a logistical nightmare and we’re dealing with it and it’s working,” Krotec joked, as the park is a construction project in progress.
Volunteers are needed for parking, greeting, hospitality, traffic security, docks, boat drivers, path control and more, he said.
Beyond volunteering, Krotec is also working on inclusiveness, wanting to bring in events for disabled veterans and athletes as well as bring in kids who come from disadvantaged communities to take up rowing.
“It’s about community rowing and giving young adults, girls and boys, the chance to do something that they might not have the opportunity to do,” he said.
As the park builds, so do the rowing programs hosted there. The construction and news of the park’s plans is helping grow the sport in the Manatee and Sarasota county region.
“It’s exposing the kids and the athletes to the bigger picture of rowing,” said Randy Higel, men’s head coach for the Sarasota Scullers. “There’s a chance to see collegiate activity, some elite activity.”
Both Higel and Sarasota Crew head coach Casey Galvanek said increased awareness and growth of the sport in the area is the ultimate benefit of the park’s next phases.
High school is where the growth has been noticeable so far.
Two years ago, Sarasota Crew had 45 high school rowers, then grew to 91 last year and this year they have 143 high school rowers, Galvanek said.
“When we did the budget, the board based it on reasonable growth and we thought 110 kids,” he said. “To have those numbers we were like, “Oh! We have to go buy more equipment.”
Manatee County schools, Higel noted, see the greatest raw growth where Manatee, Palmetto and Southeast high schools all have programs now. They train at the Manatee County boathouse at Fort Hamer Park in Parrish.
“That was an unexposed area for high school kids,” Higel said of Manatee.
Manatee is serious about providing a place for kids to row, The Bradenton Herald explained:
“In conjunction with the work at Nathan Benderson Park, Manatee County government is in the design stage of making $650,000 of improvements to Fort Hamer Rowing Park in Parrish.
The Manatee County project management department is planning to receive bids for the design by late summer and start construction by the fall, said county spokesman Nick Azzara. The improvements would include building a boat and trailer parking lot, boat ramp improvements, a playground, dock enhancements, gates, new stormwater system, a canoe/kayak storage area, a garage for parks and recreation equipment and a caged parking area for scull trailers.”
For the serious scullers, what these intermediary steps before the grand completion mean to rowers is an advantage for practicing for competitions.
Regatta facilities on the East Coast and Gulf Coast of Florida can only host two boats at a time in the water, explained Sarasota Crew head coach Casey Galvanek.
Higel said it’s especially key for the blind boats where lanes are necessary and knowing you’re rowing in a straight line.
Whether elite athletes or recreational athletes, the next step to take is having folks show up to the competitions,sitting in the bleachers to cheer the rowers on, Higel said.
“Whether you’re a rowing fan or not, to watch the competition and the effort they put in is pretty inspiring,” Higel said.
An Olympic Venue
Benderson Park is pegged as a regional park, noted Virginia Haley, president of Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“We have this amazing new asset that’s going to propel Sarasota on the international stage with competitions the likes we’ve not seen before,” she said. “We thought the regattas we had were big. Wait until you see what’s coming down the road.”
Blackketter’s personal goal is to host the world championships, but as a map points out of FISA (Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d’Aviron, or International Federations of Rowing Associations) rowing facilities, there are a select few in the world. London and Beijing’s both were made for the Olympics. Sarasota’s would be the only permanent Class A international rowing venue in North America when completed.
If Tampa were to ever bid for the summer Olympics, would Florida World Aquatic Center be a part of a package that could seal the deal? Olympic teams already use the lake for training and promotional materials say the park and lake will meet the World Olympic standard.
“The biggest reason Chicago didn’t get the Olympics is that they didn’t have an adequate rowing facility,” Blackketter said. “This is an Olympic facility for rowing, canoeing, kayaking, sprint — all the paddle board sprints — this is an Olympic facility for rowing. It will meet all their specifications.”
Given the rarity of hosting an Olympic Games, the World Championships would prove to be a more regular large-scale event, he explained.
“That’s a promise we can make to have a world scale championship,” he said. “The Olympics — so many different things involved with that.”
“Our expectations is that we’ll have a major event here every weekend year-round when this thing is fully developed,” Blackketter said, who added he hopes to have the Sunshine Games hosted at the park one year.
As Randy Benderson, son of Nathan Benderson Sr., attended the celebration, he was modest about what this means to his family and what he hopes it becomes.
“Just a world class park that we’ve been talking about for several years for all different types of water sports and running, walking, biking,” he said.
More Than Just Rowing
The park will be more than just rowing. Rowing just makes up 15 percent of the park’s activities, Blackketter said. Canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboard, cross country running, wakeboarding, water skiing, fishing, and dragon boat.
“Anything that’s green and conducive to this venue, we’re open to all different programs,” he said.
The Pan Am Drag Boat Championships is slated for Oct. 20 and 21 at the park and will be coupled with a Sarasota Dragon Boat Festival. In 2014, teams from more than 60 teams are anticipated to compete in the Breast Cancer Dragon Boat Festival, Krotec said.
Want to volunteer at a rowing event? Contact John Krotec at firstname.lastname@example.org.