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East County Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018 5 months ago

This Sarasota experience towers over others as Celtic festival begins

Side or Ranch: Jay Heater
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

I still remember my first trip to the Statue of Liberty, and all that climbing.

One flight of stairs, and another, and another. Three-hundred and fifty-four steps, about the equivalent of 20 stories.

All the way, you are looking at stairs. Sure, there are windows, but who is looking out windows when you are trying to breathe? Now the stairs, they were flat, and narrow. I saw them real well, especially when I was bent over.

Jay Heater

Think about it, if you will. You aren't making the trip to see the Statue of Liberty. You're already there for goodness sakes. You are climbing to see out, away from the Statue of Liberty. You want to look at New York City, or the water.

Warning signs tell you to stop if you have heart conditions, respiratory problems, mobility impairments, claustrophobia, acrophobia or vertigo.

Of course, we know people will do just about anything to get a great view.

The folks at Nathan Benderson Park and the Suncoast Aquatics Nature Center Associates are banking on that fact.

On Oct. 23, Stephen Rodriguez, the SANCA CEO, was addressing the Sarasota County Commission about funding ideas for Nathan Benderson Park. In June the Commission was concerned about SANCA's request for $1.16 million in funding over the next three years to help pay its $2.2 million yearly operating budget.

One way to raise money will be to make the finish tower pay off.

The finish tower cost $5.8 million to build, which was paid entirely by the Nathan Benderson Family Foundation. It costs approximately $90,000 yearly to operate.

In another year, SANCA executives expect to turn a profit on the tower by booking as many events possible.

The draw? One heck of a view.

We know the finish tower absolutely is not on a par with the 305-foot, 1-inch Statue of Liberty (from ground level to top), or the 1,454-foot Empire State Building (from ground to tip), or any of those mountains we climb just to look down.

The finish tower is a mere 86 feet. But then again, this is Florida. It doesn't take a lot to produce a wonderful view.

Those who have used the various platforms of the finish tower — designed by Guy Peterson — to absorb the view of Benderson Park and Sarasota in general, would attest it's pretty darned cool, and one that isn't offered in too many other places around the county.

Want to see for yourself? Here is your chance.

On Oct. 26-27, Nathan Benderson Park will host the Sarasota Celtic Music Festival, presented by the Sarasota chapter of the New World Celts. The event includes 10 live bands over the two days and more than 50 vendors. More than 4,000 people are expected to pack the park.

The gates open at 4 p.m. on Friday and close at 9:30 p.m. The Saturday portion of the event runs from 10:30 a.m. until 9:30 p.m.

On Saturday, a special $75 ticket will be sold for the "VIP Tower Experience." Note that regular admission is $10 to the park on Friday and $25 on Saturday with children 12 and under free. For pre-sale tickets online, go to

Karen Jones, who is in charge of the VIP Tower Experience for the festival, said the tower experience, which opens at 3 p.m. on Saturday, was added to elevate the event. For those who want a quieter and air conditioned experience, the tower should work quite nicely, and allow those who want to take in the entire festival to go back and forth.

The tower will also will be packed with buffets featuring Celtic favorites. Beer and wine is included in the price. The tower will have live music and exhibits, but a bit less an intense than on the main grounds.

As an aside, I went online to find out what it meant to be Celtic. Whether it was Wiki or dictionaries or reference sites, nobody seemed to have a standard answer. In today's world, I could best gather that being Celtic means you enjoy the respective cultures of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man and Brittany. Jones said event itself honors their roots.

She also said the response to the VIP Tower Experience has been a good one, but noted tickets will be available on Saturday at the site. She said those wanting to assure themselves entrance into the tower should buy tickets online.

But even with all the great food and entertainment, one other feature has been the most attractive.

"It's a panoramic view," Jones said. "It's gorgeous. We haven't had anything like this before."

SANCA wants those who run events to keep giving similar critiques. "We haven't had anything like this before."

It will make the financial view at Nathan Benderson Park that much sweeter.

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