Rowing. Swimming. BMX?
One of these sports might seem like it doesn’t belong, but, for Sarasota, they could all be a boost for the economy. Satisfied with the success of the sports tourism the first two have generated, the county is considering upgrading facilities to attract aficionados of a more extreme sport.
Plans to improve and expand the BMX track at Tuttle Avenue and 17th Street, including the addition of an 8-meter ramp, have been in the works for years. But County Commissioner Joe Barbetta brought up finally making the project a reality at a county budget workshop July 12. He suggested the upgrades would quickly pay dividends.
“If we did finish it to those standards, I think we’d be pretty much assured of several BMX events in the community with pretty good economic impact,” Barbetta said.
Nicole Rissler, director of sports with Visit Sarasota County, echoed Barbetta’s comments. Only one other track in the country, located in Chula Vista, Calif., has an 8-meter ramp, Rissler said. Being only one of two tracks in the country with that feature — and the only East Coast facility — would instantly make Sarasota a draw for BMX riders, she said.
The total cost of the facility upgrades would be about $1.7 million, according to Carolyn Brown, director of the county’s Parks and Recreation Department. Currently, about $750,000 has been secured. Depending on the events that were held in the area, potential economic impact is estimated at around $3.5 million annually, Brown said.
Rissler acknowledged the people the county would be aiming to bring in would be a contrast to the current targets of Sarasota’s sports tourism efforts, but said the bottom line remained the same.
“The demographic is certainly a different demographic than a rowing family or a swimming family, but they still stay in hotels and they still spend locally,” Rissler said.
With the planning mostly squared away, Rissler said the project could be completed within a year after funding was secured. In addition to a potential one-time expenditure from the County Commission, avenues for funding include a partnership with a private donor or the accumulation of surtax revenue.
BMX was added to the Olympics starting with the 2008 games in Beijing. If the Sarasota facilities are upgraded, they could be a hot spot leading up to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Rissler said, due, in part, to offering a similar climate in which riders could train. This, according to Brown, would bring significant business to the area.
“It’s not just one or two people,” Brown said. “It’s entire delegations that are coming to train.”
The impact wouldn’t necessarily be wholly external, either. Rissler said Sarasota has its own BMX history, including the nation’s oldest continuously running track at the Youth Athletic Complex. The track was built in 1974.
“We’re home to quite a few pros here locally,” Rissler said. “For not a huge investment, we would be able to give the community a wonderful asset that could be used by kids and adults alike.”
Contact David Conway at [email protected].