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Business of sports shouldn’t be ignored when assessing local parks

During the hottest parts of this summer, a lot of Pickens families took vacations to what might seem unusual, though certainly not exotic, locales.

A group of around 25 families from here journeyed to Screven County. About 40 families checked out Tifton. Another group went to Eastman, Georgia.

At some point this summer, Pickens County dollars, including some raised funds, flowed into cash registers of small towns across the southern end of the state. Multiple-night hotel stays, meals, plus some casual shopping boosted sales tax collections and vendors’ summers elsewhere.

What these towns as well as many northern Georgia communities offer isn’t historic sites, mountain vistas or a coastline. What they all have are sports facilities adequate to host a district or state tournament.

One parent/coach of the girls’ softball team that got to spend two days at Screven said there was nothing in the area that would attract tourism. Yet our Pickens team held fundraisers so they could spring for up to three hotel nights and some food for their 12 players and families at that location.

Screven County boasts a very nice softball/baseball complex, but nothing like Turner Field – just a decent facility.

Over in Tifton, the city has a nice pool. It’s nothing like you see on the Olympics but something comparable to what the Roper Park pool could be with a complete renovation and some covered bleachers.

That softball complex brought at least 1,000 people for parts of three days. That Tifton pool attracted about 500 people for the same three-day widow.

Softball complexes and pools are cost prohibitive if viewed purely as an amenity for youth. But when you consider that sports facilities put South Georgia towns on the tourism chart, it could make price tags a whole lot more tolerable.

Think what 500 to 1,000 out-of-town visitors for three days could do for local restaurants, stores and hotels? Multiply this a few times a year by having a creative, energetic promoter who drums up adult tournaments and other events that draw people to the facility. Those are people almost sure to make a dash to the nearest store for a cooler, chair, hat or sunscreen at some point during their stay. And figure that if you had 500 people here for three days, they would likely wander downtown at some time, just curious enough to kill some time.

Other communities get this and some in a big way:

• A Georgia Recreation and Park Association State Swim Meet at the Lakeshore Natatorium hosted by the Carrollton Parks and Recreation department drew more than 1,000 swimmers, 5,000 total visitors and was thought to have contributed more than $1.2 million to the local economy.

The Carrollton Times-Georgian printed estimates that this event  produced “$79,522 in local sales tax, which represents about $11 of tax relief per household in the city.”

The Times Georgian went on to report that recreation officials were very pleased to have successfully bid for the swim meet. It did not disclose what they had to bid. But it said they were optimistic that a softball complex built using SPLOST dollars there would have the same type of financial impact.

• The Macon Telegraph reported that their (assumedly awesome) softball/baseball complex produces more than $4 million a year in economic spending.

• Overland, Kansas has put itself on the map, ranking 7th on Money Magazine’s 2010 list of best places to live, based in part on a national-tournament quality soccer facility.

If you had been in Screven or Tifton, you wouldn’t doubt the impact. When you start bringing teams and parents and siblings, you start running up substantial numbers of dinners and hotel rooms plus the extras.

Still can’t believe sports tourism is for real? Think back to when Pickens County hosted one night of the Bicycle Ride Across Georgia. That was the only night we recall when every downtown restaurant had lines at the door.


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