EAST COUNTY — East County resident John Krotec helped kill plans to build a Walmart Supercenter off Fruitville Road more than six years ago.
But the community activist surprisingly didn’t put boxing gloves up against plans to build a rowing facility — and extend North Cattlemen Road from Fruitville to University Parkway — soon after.
When Benderson Development project manager Paul Blackketter and a local rowing coach rolled out conceptual plans on a table before him, Krotec laughed to himself: Such an elaborate idea simply couldn’t be built.
But Krotec quickly realized he was wrong. Later that day, he watched Olympic rowers practice on the lake at what is now Nathan Benderson Park. He pulled their coach aside for insight.
“(The coach) said, ‘I’ve been doing this for over 30 years, and if your community builds this lake, you’ll have the finest rowing facility on the planet,’” Krotec said.
From that moment on, Krotec was convinced.
And, more than two years after contractors broke ground on the 2.8-mile roadway extension that allowed the lake to be lengthened to accommodate a 2,000-meter rowing course and host international events, Krotec helped direct traffic, as more than 200 guests gathered May 24 along Cattlemen Road to formally celebrate its opening.
The roadway’s design, which was moved by about 300 feet to provide for the lake’s reconfiguration, includes four 12-foot-wide travel lanes, 4-foot-wide bicycle lanes and a 10-foot-wide sidewalk along the western side of the roadway, as well as two span bridges.
“(The road) is going to alleviate a lot of traffic, and to me, personally, it’s going to help our neighborhoods in a big way,” Krotec said after the ceremony. “It’s a top-quality road. It’s going to showcase the park, too.”
Longtime Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson agreed.
“It’s a great day,” she said. “It’s been a connection (we’ve) needed for a long time. It facilitates not only regional transportation, but also it makes the rowing facility into something that qualifies us for national events. This is a terrific moment.”
Sarasota County officials say the new roadway extension, which runs north from Brown Lane to DeSoto Road, provides drivers with a much-needed north-south alternative to both Interstate 75 and Honore Avenue.
Patterson also commended Manatee County commissioners, who partnered with Sarasota to help secure $13 million in federal funding for the project and are jointly sponsoring a multi-million dollar bid to host the 2017 World Rowing Championships at Nathan Benderson Park.