by Art Levy
Updated 6 yearss ago
Sarasota County is moving to create an international rowing destination at Nathan Benderson Park. [Photo: Karen J. Galvin]
In the 1960s, workers began mining a borrow pit in Sarasota County, using the rock and shell to create foundations for buildings, overpasses and miles of roads, including Interstate 75 through Sarasota and Manatee counties. By the early 1990s, mining was complete, and the pumps that kept the hole from filling with water shut down, leaving a rectangular 500-acre lake of flat, still water. Rowers took notice, and the lake, incorporated into Sarasota County’s Nathan Benderson Park, has become one of Florida’s top spots for rowing.
Now, the county is poised to invest millions to improve the park so it can host national and international rowing regattas. “If we build infrastructure around it and master-plan it, we can easily have one of the top rowing venues in North America,” says Paul Blackketter, a project supervisor for Benderson Development, a Manatee County-based development company that has pledged $1 million to the effort.
Sarasota County has targeted $5 million in tourism tax money for the proposed work, which would include building boathouses and grandstands. The lake would be extended from around 1,800 meters long to more than 2,000, allowing it to host Olympic-caliber events. Blackketter says the changes will coincide with a $20-million extension of Cattlemen Road through the park. Both projects should be completed in time to host the 2012 NCAA rowing championships.
Jason Puckett, sports manager for the Sarasota Convention & Visitors Bureau, says the changes should help attract other major events. Based on the bureau’s projections of 100,000 people a year visiting the park to attend regattas, Puckett estimates an annual economic impact of at least $43 million.
“Most of our lakes and rivers in Florida have current and a lot of boat traffic,” Blackketter says. “They don’t have straight shorelines. They undulate. They’re the wrong shape. But this lake has everything you need to be world-class.”
Nathan Benderson Park