The International Federation of Rowing Associations (FISA) has announced that Nathan Benderson Park (NBP) in Sarasota County, Florida has been selected to host the 2017 World Rowing Championships. FISA officials cited the park’s close proximity to I-75, Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, beaches, shopping and the year-round nice climate as reasons for choosing the venue.

Set for fall 2017, this is only the second time the event will be held in the United States and the first time it will be held in Florida. The event was held 30 years ago in Indianapolis.

“Our team has been working so intensely on this bid for the past 10 months, to see our dream now realized is an incredible moment,” says Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County (VSC). “We now have this opportunity to show off our wonderful community and our hospitality to the world,”

The potential for significant international exposure of Sarasota County is strong. More than 2,000 athletes hailing from more than 70 countries and an estimated 40,000 spectators are expected to attend the event and it will be broadcast to an estimated 130 million people across the globe.

Unlike foreign governments’ total investment in their sporting venues, the development of NBP is a shining example of the difference a public/private partnership came make. Commercial developer Benderson Development Corporation, along with Sarasota and Manatee counties, the State of Florida, community rowing clubs and Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center (SANCA) all contributed to create a world-class rowing and aquatic sports center.

“We are so proud of what our community has accomplished in the spirit of competition and cooperation,” stated Nicole Rissler, director of Sports Sarasota County Sports Commission.

Nathan Benderson Park continues to grow with anticipated completion of a boathouse and finishing tower in 2015. However, this newest addition to the rowing community is already having an economic impact on Sarasota and Manatee counties with more than $60 million being realized from 70 events in 2013.

Visit Sarasota County has provided support in hosting elite-level rowing and aquatic competitions at NBP. In August 2013, the U.S. Masters Rowing Championship lauded the park for its exceptional quality. From Oct. 24-26, 2014 the park will host its first major international event, the International Breast Cancer Dragon Boat Races. Other elite rowing events for both Olympic-caliber, scholastic and collegiate level rowers are also scheduled.

Nathan Benderson Park is well known in the national rowing community as an ideal venue for training, particularly in the winter months. It has become a favorite of college teams. Sarasota and neighboring Manatee Counties offer varied training opportunities and actually boast a trifecta of venues. NBP is the ideal 2,000-meter sprint course. The Ft. Hamer Rowing Training facility utilizes the Manatee River and is ideal for almost unlimited distance training. The Osprey Bay Preserve utilizes the Intracoastal Waterway subjecting teams to tidal influences and distance challenges.

From rowing, kayak and canoe to stand up paddleboard and dragon boats, NBP has certainly earned a place in the rowing and aquatic community. However, Sarasota is not a “one trick pony.” The community has had a long-term commitment to sports tourism.

Recently, a $30-million renovation to Ed Smith Stadium, the longtime spring training home of the Baltimore Orioles, was completed. Visit Sarasota County along with the major league club are successfully working together to host tournament baseball in the community. Parallel efforts are being made to acquire major beach volleyball tournaments and triathlons. The perimeter of NBP is a convenient 5,000 meters. Under construction is a Super VMX track, only the second in Florida.

The Sarasota area has a long history of sports tourism. It may date back to the late 1800s when Scotsman John Hamilton Gillespe, the town’s first mayor, introduced golf to Florida. Today the area’s intriguing history, creative arts community, exceptional public parks, world-class shopping and delectable dining options are drawing visitors. With so much to offer in a destination and the cooperation of both public and private enterprise, it’s easy to see why sports tourism is flourishing.

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