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Sarasota turns a one-time borrow pit into an economic engine

In the 1960s, workers mined tons of rock and shell at a site near the border of Manatee and Sarasota counties, leaving behind a nearly 500-acre rectangular, shallow pit. In time, the hole filled with water. And by 2010, the lake had become a favorite of local rowers, who appreciated its still waters and straight shores. A team of rowers, business leaders and Sarasota County planners saw opportunity, believing the lake could be converted into a world-class rowing venue. The effort culminated this fall, when Sarasota County’s Nathan Benderson Park hosted the 2017 World Rowing Championships, an 11-day competition that’s considered the “Super Bowl” of rowing events.

To be eligible to host the championships, the park had to complete a series of improvements, including constructing a $6-million, six-story “finish tower” to house race officials and all the required timing and video equipment that must be stationed parallel to the 2,000-meter course’s finish line.

More improvements are planned. Next up is raising $10 million to build a permanent boathouse, which will include boat storage, locker rooms, a fitness center, restrooms, offices and event rental space. It’s projected to open by 2020.

“We’ve built the tower — that’s the brain,” says Stephen V. Rodriguez, president and CEO of the park’s Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center. “The boathouse will be the heart.”

He says the investments are paying off. The world championships, for example, attracted more than 40,000 people, a total that doesn’t include 1,700 athletes, coaches and other support staff. Rodriguez says the meet’s economic impact was estimated at $25 million, with other rowing events this fiscal year accounting for another $30 million.

“This park,” he says, “is a perfect example of how a community can get together with the right support and the right vision and take an area that you would think could be used for nothing — it was a big hole in the ground — and turn it into an economic development generator.”

Business Briefs

CLEARWATER — Kiran Patel [“Icon,” August 2014, FLORIDA TREND] and his wife, Pallavi, committed $200 million to help Fort Lauderdalebased Nova Southeastern University build a medical school on property the Patels own in Clearwater.

FORT MYERS — Work is underway on a 12-story, 243-room Luminary Hotel downtown.

LAND O’LAKES — Lennar is building 28 solar-powered homes in the Bexley community in Pasco County.

LAKELAND — According to Florida Citrus Mutual, Florida’s 2017-18 citrus crop could be the worst in 75 years. The state’s orange crop incurred major damage from Hurricane Irma.

PASCO COUNTY — A New York firm that makes optical lenses is moving to Trinity after spending $1.7 million on a 45,000-sq.-ft. plant. Meopta, which makes lenses for the aerospace, defense and sports industries, plans to employ 47.

ST. PETERSBURG — Sophia Wisniewska, regional chancellor of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, was forced out of her job after allegations that she didn’t properly supervise the campus during Hurricane Irma. Wisniewska, who led the campus since 2013, disputed the accusations but agreed to resign. USF President Judy Genshaft named Martin Tadlock, the campus’ regional vice chancellor of academic affairs, as interim regional chancellor.

TAMPA — Advanced Airfoil Components, a joint venture of Siemens and the Chromalloy Gas Turbine, will invest $139 million in a new Hillsborough County factory and create 350 jobs. The plant will manufacture gas turbine components. Construction started downtown on the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute. The $153-million facility is scheduled to open in 2019.

TAMPA BAY — The Florida Department of Transportation announced it plans to replace the northbound span of the Howard Frankland Bridge, which links Hillsborough and Pinellas counties along I-275, with a new eight-lane bridge that would include bike and pedestrian trails.

Innovation: Personalized Tumblers

Venice-based Tervis Tumbler is offering customers the opportunity to customize the company’s tumblers. Using a welding device the company calls the “fun fuser,” customers at the company’s Venice factory store can create their own designs and then fuse them between the tumbler’s inner and outer walls. The company hopes to install “fun fusers” in each of its 45 Tervis stores nationwide by the end of 2018.

Players

  • QVC veteran Mike Fitzharris was named president of St. Petersburg-based HSN. Once the parent group of QVC completes its $2.1-billion bid to buy HSN, three of HSN’s top executives will be out of a job: Bill Brand, Rod Little and Judy Schmeling all plan to step down, QVC executives say.
  • Jeff Jackson, president of PGT, a door and window manufacturer in Venice, will become CEO after the retirement next month of Rod Hershberger.
  • Triad Retail Media, a St. Petersburg digital advertising company, named Sherry Smith CEO after Roger Berdusco resigned. The company, which employs 500, was purchased in 2016 for $300 million by WPP, a British public relations firm.
  • Triad Retail Media, a St. Petersburg digital advertising company, named Sherry Smith CEO after Roger Berdusco resigned. The company, which employs 500, was purchased in 2016 for $300 million by WPP, a British public relations firm.

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