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East County Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009 8 years ago

Olympian: Rowing site 'world class'

by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

LAKEWOOD RANCH — Olympic rower Jason Read backed Benderson Development’s vision to create a world-class rowing facility at Nathan Benderson Park last week, telling local business leaders the facility will be one of the best in the world and will be a major economic catalyst for the region.

“The capacity at this rowing course is such that it will support major national and international competitions,” Read said during the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance’s “Breakfast of Champions” event Oct. 14. “It’s one of the best (I’ve seen), and I’ve rowed on courses all over the world. To be sure, the rowing course at Nathan Benderson Park is a world-class place to train and compete.”

The 31-year-old said the future course had many similarities to the rowing site in Athens, Greece, at which he earned his Olympic gold medal in 2004.

“That was the first thing that dawned on me (when I saw it),” he said.

Benderson Development is working with Sarasota County to turn an existing park, just south of its University Town Center Project, into a rowing facility that could generate millions of dollars in revenue for the county and area businesses while spurring the stalled University Town Center mega mall project forward.

As it exists today, the lake can accommodate races of up to 1,800 meters in length, making it 200 meters shy of the length required for international rowing competitions. However, the future expansion of Cattlemen Road, expected to start in the first quarter of 2010, will force a reconfiguration of the lake and subsequently give it the 2,000 meters it needs for that level of competition.

Already, the lake has played home to several rowing competitions, including the Florida Scholastic Rowing Championship in April, which Read attended with a teammate on the national rowing team.

“It was incredible,” Read said. “It was the most well-run regatta I’ve been to in 19 years of rowing. Everywhere we went there were rowers and their families.”

Read was confident the area would be a natural choice for training, especially for northern teams looking to escape the cold winter months.

The facility also would have an advantage over the nation’s three other international rowing sites, which are set in remote locations, because of its proximity to shopping, restaurants and other amenities.

“The weather, the friendliness of the people, the business community — I can’t think of a better place to train,” Read said. “It makes sense to come here because there are many opportunities.”

Paul Blackketter, project manager for Benderson Development, has been traveling to regattas all over the country and world, collecting information about how best to design the facility and promoting the future site to the people he meets.

“What’s already here is what makes it stand out from everybody else,” Blackketter said.

Even though the 2,000-meter course has not yet been built, teams are eagerly lining up to use the facility. Already lined up for next year are the Florida Intercollegiate Rowing Association and the Florida Scholastic Rowing Association state championships in April and the Southeast Youth Championship Regatta in May.
In total, the events are expected to draw more than 30,000 people to the area.

Blackketter said his company is working with rowing groups, coaches and a group from Switzerland to make sure the new facility will comply with all international competition specifications and will be the best rowing course possible.

For more photos of the event, click here.

Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].

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