World Rowing Championships Make a Big Splash in Sarasota

By Matt Swenson, September 21, 2017

The 2017 World Rowing Championships, Sept. 24-Oct. 1 at Nathan Benderson Park, are almost surely the biggest event ever held in Sarasota, Florida. But Rob Wells, director of sports of the Sarasota County Sports Commission, goes a step further.

“I would contend it’s one of the biggest events ever south of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge,” says Wells, pointing to the landmark connecting Tampa and St. Petersburg to the Sarasota region. “It’s the biggest I can think of.”

Participants began arriving last week even as most of Hurricane Irma-devastated Florida was without electricity. Max Winitz, the event’s media and public relations manager, estimates more than 90 percent of volunteers at a weekend training session reported they were still without power.

“That shows you have people in the area who are reacting to [the event],” he says. “They realize this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing to be part of.”

The international visitors will spend as much as two weeks in area hotels, eating at restaurants and boosting the local economy. The Westin Sarasota opened this summer, adding valuable rooms to the region.

Next year, the 2018 World Rowing Masters Regatta—featuring an estimated 3,000 athletes ages 27 and older—will also be in Sarasota. While the masters will have more competitors, the world championships are considered more prestigious.

This week, Nathan Benderson Park has been turned in a “tent city” as teams set up base, says Winitz. A 2,000-seat grandstand has been created to accommodate expected large crowds.

“It already looks like nothing the park has ever seen,” says Wells. “It’s a world-class buildout reflecting what a world championship should look like.”

Fortunately, only a couple of the park’s newly planted palm trees fell victim to Irma. Some locals expressed concern about the storm’s affect on the regatta, but Wells says he was always confident it would go on as scheduled.

Here are a few statistics demonstrating the World Rowing Championships’ magnitude:

$25 million — Estimated economic impact on the region

$5 million— Cost to a build a new glass-enclosed finish tower, a requirement to host the World Rowing Championships. It will house officials and VIP guests.

2,000 — Volunteers working the event

1,700 — Athletes and training staff in Sarasota

69 — Countries represented

Photo courtesy of World Rowing Championships

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