SANCA board hires new president/CEO

Robert Sullivan has past experience managing convention venues that have hosted a range of events — from sports competitions to conventions to concerts with 3,000 attendees

Henderson Park is close to University Parkway. File photo
Benderson Park is close to University Parkway. File photo

The board of directors of the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates Inc. (SANCA) announced on Aug. 10 that Robert J. Sullivan, who has more than 35 years of experience managing events and venues, has been named the organization’s president and CEO.

SANCA is the nonprofit that handles operations and events at Sarasota County’s Nathan Benderson Park, which will host the World Rowing Championships in 2017.

Sullivan will be responsible for overseeing all aspects of the park’s operations and management, a news release says. “He will officially take the reins” on Monday, Aug. 15, the release adds.

Bill Robinson, chair of SANCA, said in the release that more than 60 resumes were submitted to SANCA, but the board voted unanimously to hire Sullivan. “Bob’s mindset that public venues are designed to provide a variety of events and activities that enhance the quality of life and economic opportunities for the citizens and businesses in the community mirrors our philosophy,” Robinson explained in the release. “We are confident he is the right person to lead Nathan Benderson Park and the great team we currently have in place.”

Sullivan will be replacing Paul Blackketter, who resigned from the position this spring after publicity surrounding a YouTube video that showed him cursing and berating a person at the park. Blackketter had worked for years for Benderson Development — which has developed the park facilities — to scout international venues in an effort to make Benderson Park a premier rowing location in the world.

Sullivan will be relocating from Wichita Falls, Texas, where, for the past 11 years, he has managed the Multi-Purpose Events Center (MPEC), the release notes. That facility comprises an arena, convention center, a horse exhibition center and a memorial auditorium, the SANCA release continues. In addition to the MPEC, Sullivan was responsible for the management of the Convention & Visitors Bureau, the release adds.

Prior to his taking that position, the release says, Sullivan had been in senior management roles at venues in a variety of communities, including the Cow Palace in San Francisco; Sheffield Arena in Sheffield, England; Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, Calif.; and the MetroCentre in Rockford, Ill.

“Throughout his career, Sullivan has managed venues that have staged amateur and professional hockey programs, arena football and indoor soccer, as well as high school, college and professional basketball and hockey programs,” the release points out. Over the years, he has been involved in numerous regional and international sporting activities, including the Hotter n’ Hell Hundred Bicycle Race in Wichita Falls, the World Student Games in Sheffield, England, and the USA vs. Russia volleyball exhibition in San Francisco, the release adds. Furthermore, he has handled performances and concerts — from Jerry Seinfeld appearances to Lollapalooza — in venues that could seat from 500 people to 3,000, the release says.

The MPEC website banner offers information about its venues and upcoming events. Image from the website
The MPEC website banner provides links to information about its venues and upcoming events. Image from the website

Sullivan received his Certified Facilities Executive designation (CFE) in 1998 from the International Association of Venue Managers.

“Nathan Benderson Park has established itself as a premier rowing center and versatile county park, hosting a multitude of community-sponsored events,” said Sullivan in the release. “I am excited to begin working with the SANCA board, the staff and Sarasota County Government, taking [the park] to the next level of excellence locally and on a world stage,” he added in the release.