SANCA Hires Sports Foundation VP as CEO

Exec Moves


A Florida Sports Foundation executive will take over leadership of Nathan Benderson Park this year just as the Sarasota venue prepares for its biggest moment on the world stage. The Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates announced on Monday that Stephen V. Rodriguez will come on as the organization’s president and CEO in August.

Rodriguez, who served the past 18 years as senior vice president at the sports foundation, says this opportunity attracted him because of how quickly Benderson park became recognized as a major venue. “I was looking at the potential of the facility and the potential it has as a world-class international facility but also as an outstanding community asset,” Rodriguez says.

He takes on his new post less than two months before the start of the World Rowing Championships, which run Sept. 24 through Oct. 1 and mark the arrival of the most prominent event at the venue to date. “Anyone in sports would be more than enthusiastic to be involved with such a high level event,” Rodriguez says. “All of us understand the importance of the World Rowing Championships to the rowing community. We want the park to serve as an outstanding venue, and we know all eyes will be on Nathan Benderson Park and Sarasota and Manatee counties.”

The publicly owned park also has been the subject of some controversy in recent years, with many questioning whether enough private funding had been raised to support improvements to the facility, making the arrival of a foundation executive in the CEO role especially notable. But Rodriguez would not speak to any potential shortcomings in fundraising for the park in the past, saying he would need to learn the internal operations before identifying any deficiencies.

But as far as his own background, he said one of his proudest achievements with the Florida Sports Foundation had been the continuous operation of the Sunshine State Games, now the longest standing state games in the country. “When the recession hit, state games throughout the country started folding. We were affected as well, but by changing some of the ways we do our event structure and the way we do business, we were able to not only keep the games alive but keep growing,” he says.

Similarly, he also oversaw significant growth in the Florida Senior Games, which grew from being chiefly a recreational event to becoming a highly competitive outing. Along those lines, he says sports hold the potential for improving not only the tourism and visitor economy but in providing for an active and healthy lifestyle for those living here all year.

Rodriguez will be the third CEO for the organization. Paul Blackketter, who helped develop the park as a sporting venue during his time at Benderson Development, came on as SANCA’s first CEO in 2009 and announced his departure from the organization April 2016. Bob Sullivan came on last year but announced earlier this year he would retire by the end of the calendar year. When Rodriguez begins in August, Sullivan will stay on as long as needed during the leadership transition.

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