Benderson Park Braces For Sporting Season



While everyone’s eyes will turn to University Park this year during the World Rowing Championships from September 24 to October 1, the officials at Nathan Benderson Park have a number of major events this year that will keep the park busy weekend after weekend. Bob Sullivan, president and CEO of the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates, notes that just a week after the rowing championship (October 7–8), the International Triathlon Union World Cup will be hosted at the Gulf Coast venue. 

“It’s a different mindset and a different type of event. We need to have versatility and changeover from one event to another,” Sullivan says. “It’s like the SuperBowl. Once it’s over, great, let’s get on to the next game.”

In April, the park will host the Florida Scholastic Rowing Association’s west district and state sculling championships. Then in June, the USRowing Youth Nationals will come to the park. Nationals will attract 1,600 to 1,800 young athletes and their families—it's an enormous sporting event that will bring hosts of people likely planning vacations before and after the races. “Something like the World Rowing Championships comes along every decade or so,” Sullivan says. “[Youth Nationals] is the sort of event we want to do every year.”

And as the only Class A rowing facility in the nation, the park is in a good spot to do just that. The park has become a central marketing focus for tourism leaders in the region; the Sarasota County Sports Commission now splashes images of rowers on its main marketing material while promoting the venue alongside spring training baseball stadiums and regional facilities like the Sarasota County BMX Track. 

The event also serves as a good dress rehearsal for the world championship, Sullivan says, with officials able to test the capacity of roads, hotels and concessions. A new Finish Tower will also come online this year, in time for the international competition and hopefully some other contests before then. Of course, the world event brings its own special challenges, managing international travel for FISA officials and straightening out visas for athletes and dignitaries. 

The venue only grows in reputation here and abroad, though Sullivan notes the region assists in that, saying, “It’s easier getting people to Sarasota, Florida than to Bismarck, North Dakota."

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