Thursday, April 8, 2010

Rowing at Benderson could have large economic impact

Via Mysuncoast:

SARASOTA - Athletes from around the world are already training here in Sarasota County, and by the end of 2011, Sarasota may become the premier rowing destination in North America.

If you're not a rower, what does that mean to you?  Money.

When the lake at Nathan Benderson Park is expanded to world-class rowing standards, leaders in the rowing world say it can attract regattas here that will bring in tens of thousands of people who'll spend several days and leave big bucks behind when they return home.

It's an amazing stroke of luck.

"Who would have thought a few years ago Sarasota could be a rowing destination?" says John Leeming, president of Sarasota Crew.

But it just happens that the 600-acre lake at the new Nathan Benderson Park -- a lake originally dug as a mining pit -- can become what some say would be the best world sanctioned rowing facility in North America.  It meets all the qualifications.  "It's a dedicated piece of a body of water.  It has no current, straight shoreline, good depth, great location for accessibility...local hotels and rest," says project manager Paul Blackketter.

Currently, the lake is 1500 meters long...not long enough for the world sanctioned rowing regattas.  But the county is already working on a project using federal stimulus money to extend Cattleman Road, which would increase the size of the lake to just under 2200 meters -- exactly what's needed in international rowing competitions.

This week, international leaders in the rowing world are in Sarasota, including the editor of Rowing Magazine and a representative from the Boston rowing facility.  Monday they told Sarasota County commissioners what a gold mine the county has with the lake.  "They are all thrilled by the fact that this course can be a 12 month a year rowing facility, and they are also enamored by our community and the access that they have to the intracoastal (waterway), which provides the long distance rowing venue for training."

And these experts say when the lake is expanded to required length, the county could attract more than 77 countries to world class rowing regattas.  And that would certainly have an effect on our economy.  "Tremendous effect.  An average regatta can attract over 10,000 people; ten regattas a year, you're looking a more than 100,000 people...huge economic impact."

The Florida Inter-collegiate Rowing Regatta is coming up at Nathan Benderson Park this weekend.  12 colleges from across Florida will compete for the state championship on Friday and Saturday.

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