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Benedict Tufnell

A New Era Dawns Over Nathan Benderson Park

by Benedict Tufnell

The 2017 World Rowing Championships, held in Sarasota Bradenton, Florida was widely regarded by both athletes and spectators as an unbridled success. Tight organisation, slick facilities and a great atmosphere came together to provide what some FISA officials declared to be the best running of the world championships they have seen.

The event was years in the making – Nathan Benderson Park was little more than a hole in the ground when they won the bid – so what now for the future of the world class venue?

“Its just a case of taking it apart and putting it back together again.”

Currently the park is under some scrutiny to justify its costs to the local tax payers. The park’s executive director Meredith Scerba has stated that the week-long world championships broke even on it’s $9.1 million budget thanks to ticket sales, sponsorship and public revenues. Scerba also claims that the local economic impact from the visitors, athletes and delegates that came to visit the area is in the region of $22.6 million. However Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran has requested the accounting of the $15 million in state funding – used to help construct the park – be made public.

Scerba has responded by saying a full accounting of the costs and revenues of the championships is being prepared and submitted to the county and the World Rowing Federation, FISA, for full audits to be completed by February.

Nathan Benderson Park During the 2017 World Rowing Championships

While the park is county-owned, it has until now been run in partnership with the private, non-profit group Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates (SANCA). SANCA was designed largely to assist with the organisation and planning of the world championships.

That agreement between SANCA and the county expires in September, opening the door for a new era of management and possibly an adjustment to the $843,000 it currently receives annually in county funding.

Politics aside, the park continues to host and attract new events, and has a busy schedule already for 2018 including the world masters regatta and the NCAA women’s national rowing championships.

There may even be scope to develop it’s own boathouse, something which was initially planned for the venue but has yet to materialise.

Commissioner Nancy Detert says she has a number of creative ideas to put forward for the future of the park as it transitions into it’s post world champs existence; “Its just a case of taking it apart and putting it back together again.”

Photography ©Benedict Tufnell

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