EAST COUNTY — Under a sunny and still sky, officials from the international body behind the World Rowing Championships came away impressed by an evaluation of Sarasota’s Nathan Benderson Park.
Four members from the Swiss-based International Federation of Rowing Associations, or FISA, conducted a site inspection of the park April 16, for the area’s bid to host the 2017 World Rowing Championships.
The international group sees Sarasota as a rising market for rowing.
There hasn’t been a world championship in the United States since 1994.
“It’s a beautiful, beautiful location, and we see the potential for this as a destination that will be revealed to a new market and a new target audience,” said Matt Smith, FISA executive director. “Those who have followed this from the early days are impressed with the work we’ve seen. The bridges look great. After coming from the European winter, we’re happy to have some warmth and sunshine.”
Manatee and Sarasota counties, as part of a public-private partnership, are backing a preliminary bid package SunCoast Aquatic Nature Center Association — a non-profit group made of local tourism, government and other officials — submitted in February.
During a two-day visit, FISA members made suggestions for improvements and necessary changes to the initial bid.
They toured the Fort Hamer Park rowing training facility in Parrish and the Bay Preserve at Osprey, as well as area hotels.
Later in the day, the team also attended a joint session of the Manatee and Sarasota County commissions, held in Sarasota, during which officials talked about potential joint transit system proposals; a more efficient bus service called Bus Rapid Transit; a joint public safety communication system; and future transportation needs along University Parkway.
The SunCoast organization will take FISA’s suggestions and revise its preliminary bid into a final bid due at the end of May.
FISA’s board of directors will vote on a recommendation in July, before delegates from 130 countries make the final decision on who will host the 2017 World Rowing Championships during a September meeting in Chungju, South Korea.
“This has been very, very positive,” said Paul Blackketter, CEO of the SunCoast Aquatic Center. “One thing you see is the great support network behind all this. They (FISA) are quite pleased so far.”
Officials estimate the 10-day World Championships would attract more than 42,000 people to Sarasota and Manatee counties and have a regional economic impact of $25 million.
Sarasota/Manatee’s bid competes against one from Plovdiv, Bulgaria, which hosted the championships in 2012.
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].