Rowing Championships payoff of ten year effort

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SARASOTA--Maybe it was a crystal ball or maybe just some luck. But when local leaders drew up a plan in 2003 to make the Suncoast a sports tourism hub, they may not have realized just how far ahead of the curve they were.

"It wasn't until probably five or six years ago that sports tourism in the United States just started to boom," said Nicole Rissler, Sports Director for Visit Sarasota County.

And with the 2017 International Rowing Championships locked in, officials say a decade of work is being validated.

"We have always said if we can build the right venues, and we could have a competitive budget to attract the events, then we would start winning these major events," said Rissler.

Aside from Benderson Park, other venues like the Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch are also drawing athletes from all over the country.

"The facilities are great, you can't beat them," said a man at this weekend's soccer tournament, "theres nothing like this in the state."

It's also the coordinated development of everything off the field that supports what's happening on the field.

"There's a lot of wonderful opportunities off the field as well," said Christine Chlopek, whose kids play soccer, "there's lots of restaurants, there's shopping that's really close, and the hotels we've been to have been really welcoming to us as well."

And all that means major money for Manatee and Sarasota counties.

"Through quarter three of this fiscal year, we're at about $63 million dollars in economic impact generated from sports events," said Rissler.

And officials hope the investment will continue to pay here, as long as the athletes continue to play here.