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Suncoast businesses see boost from World Rowing Championships

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SARASOTA, FL (WWSB) - Rowers from nearly 70 countries are on the Suncoast for the World Rowing Championships, and so are thousands of their family members and friends. They're eating at local restaurants, shopping and staying in hotels.

Manager Chadd Engel has been welcoming a lot more international guests to Brio Tuscan Grille, including many families who have children competing in the World Rowing Championships.

"We've had quite a bit of foot traffic," Engel said. "The athletes started rolling in last Tuesday or Wednesday... We were very busy Saturday night with reservations and a lot of walk-ins, as we seen from mostly international folks."

Brio is just one of several businesses in the University Town Center area seeing a boost in customers. The Brio staff welcomes the extra business and the chance to get involved as a sponsor for the event.

"We've known about this for months and we've been preparing for weeks," Engel said. "We're doing a donation, hosting three separate events at the new tower, on site there, so we're serving breakfast and lunch."

According to Visit Sarasota President Virginia Haley, the impact of the championships extends far beyond the UTC area.

"We've created events in every community in the county, (each) has a featured event," Haley said. Downtown Sarasota is shining tonight; all the breweries will be shining tomorrow, so we're giving visitors a taste of the community."

As far as total economic impact, the goal for tourism officials is $24 million, and Haley said there's only been one possible setback.

"We lost a few room nights early on because of that unwelcome little visitor we had named Irma, but in what we've seen now, all the hotels are full," Haley said.

That's expected to continue through the weekend with more visitors scheduled to arrive for finals. Saturday and Sunday's races are standing room only. Many of those visitors have never been to the United States, much less the Suncoast.

"They're seeing us for the first time, and we're hearing they can't wait to come back when they can just relax on be on the beaches," Haley said, adding that repeat visitors mean a long-term economic benefit.