A Water View

rowing23336129Water.  It’s an essential component of the Florida lifestyle. Water defines our borders, underscores the state’s remarkable ecosystem; and provides a 101 different ways to enjoy our amazing year-round climate.

Because of its mesmerizing beauty and seemingly endless list of recreational uses, water is also the sine qua non of the state’s economy.  Without its beaches, bays and estuaries, Florida would be just another landlocked state for tourists to fly over on their way to some other coastal utopia.

It is even debatable whether Southwest Florida’s highly-developed cultural scene would flourish as it does without the magnificence of the Gulf of Mexico to lure generations of artists, writers, performers and patrons of the arts to our particular stretch of coastline.

Now, some manmade bodies of water have also stepped-up to serve the area’s economic agenda.   Thanks to some truly out-of-the-box thinking, a large abandoned mining pit—brimming with fresh water on the outskirts of Sarasota—has been transformed into a world-class rowing facility that will soon be brimming with the sport’s top international competitors.

The rise in eco- and sports tourism has created a powerful new niche in travel for our region to compete for. As such, we are enormously proud of the collaborative effort between the public and private sectors that has resulted in the stunning new Nathan Benderson Park.  If this is what happens when they work together proactively, sign us up for more.

Even before the park officially opens, the economic bonanza it was designed to create is already filling our coffers.  Not expected to be fully completed until 2017, the nascent rowing venue has already hosted collegiate level championships; and served as the practice site for daredevil aerialist Nik Wallenda, who regularly trained in full view of the international media in advance of his successful Grand Canyon crossing.

This past week the park hosted the U.S. Rowing Masters Championship; and two weeks ago the International Federation of Rowing Associations recommended that the 2017 world rowing championships be held in Sarasota—a suggestion that will no doubt be ratified.

We barely had time to absorb this good news than it was announced that the Sarasota YMCA’s Selby Aquatic Center has been selected as the site for the 2014 and 2015 YMCA National Masters Swimming Championships, just two months after the center hosted the Pan-American Masters Championship—an event that attracted 1,700 swimmers from 25 countries.  According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, it was the first time the biennial event has ever been held in the U.S; and resulted in more than $3 million being pumped into the local economy.

Once again, the collaboration between the private and public sectors—in this case pooled funding from the YMCA and Sarasota County—resulted in a refurbished venue that not only bested five other cities for the event, but also established the area as the destination to beat for future events of this scope and stature.

It makes us exceptionally proud to see what can be accomplished when government and the private sector put differences aside, set their sights on a common goal; then work together to achieve it.  Whether it comes to successfully attracting international sporting events, tackling the finer points of responsible urban growth; or solving more vexing civic and social issues—such as chronic homelessness—we would love to see this level of public and private cooperation duplicated again and again.

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