Team effort called for to expand sports economy
It’s more than fun and games, all the sporting events that take place in ball fields, courts and pools around town.
The Show-Me State Games that ended Aug. 2 drew 25,750 participants and had an estimated economic impact of more than $13 million. Over the long run, the estimated economic impact of the Olympic-style games during its 25 years in Columbia is roughly $250 million.
The Special Olympics Outdoor Championships on Aug. 7 drew about 700 participants, while thousands of participants, fans and family members came to Columbia for the state high school wrestling tournament, the Missouri State Pro Golfers Tournament, the senior Little League’s regional tournament, the Missouri Grand Prix swimming event and the NAIA National Volleyball Championships. And the paid attendance at the state basketball tournament games on two consecutive weekends? Fifty-thousand plus.
Then there are a multitude of smaller events that also attract participants who stay in hotels, eat in restaurants and shop in stores, such as the Team Horse Roping Championships, the Teen Master Bowling Tournament and various long-distance running races.
During a forum on Sporting Events and the Local Economy, Ken Ash, director of the Show-Me State Games, asked, “Are sports a viable way of generating money throughout the community? You bet, and I don’t think they should be forgotten at any point in time.”
While Columbia is hosting the biggest state games in the country, some other communities have seen sporting events eliminated because of budget cuts stemming from the faltering economy. The Empire State Games in New York was established in 1978 as the nation’s first Olympic-style statewide event, but it was cancelled this year after the $2.7 million state appropriation was cut.
And beyond the battles among amateur athletes and the efforts to find funding, the competition from cities coveting Columbia’s games is intensifying, participants in the lunch forum said.
“There are several communities within the state of Missouri that would love to have our state games,” said Julie Ausmus, manager of the Tourism Development Program at the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau.
St. Charles and St. Louis tried to persuade the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) this year to let them host the state wrestling and basketball tournaments, while logistical conflicts have caused Columbia to lose some events such as the state baseball and softball tournaments.
“We are centrally located, so it makes sense for people to come to the center of the state to participate,” said Kerwin Urhahn, MSHSAA’s executive director.
The organization’s rules require competitive bidding for every event. “People will ask, ‘Why are you having MU host?’ I tell them, ‘Well it’s the best price, the best facilities and they have bent over backward to make it work for us,” Urhahn said. “So whenever some community comes and asks ‘Why aren’t you hosting it here?’ they have a lot to step over and accomplish to get us to (move) a state championship.”
Columbia is blessed with MU’s two adjacent basketball arenas and the sprawling Cosmo Park. And on May 11, the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department dedicated Atkins Memorial Park, where two new baseball fields marked the completion of Phase One of the park master plan.
On Sept. 15 and 23, the department will host public meetings for the new southeast regional park and present a revised master plan.
Urhahn and others attending the CBT Power Lunch argued that Columbia could attract more sporting events if it had more indoor facilities.
Bob Burchard, the athletic director and basketball coach at Columbia College, said, “I’ve been saying this for probably 20 of my 22 years in Columbia: the desire and need for an indoor ‘Cosmo Park’ is huge.”
A few forum participants argued that the city and county should consider raising the park tax to raise funds for indoor courts and perhaps a pool and an ice rink. But there was general agreement that a coordinated effort is needed to rally support behind building projects.
“The two things that are most important to the games are corporate sponsors and volunteers,” Ash said. “Without either one of them we could not exist. But right behind that are facilities. Columbia is blessed with a lot of good facilities. How could we enhance the sports economy? What we need is a multipurpose building, mainly for basketball. We have a lot of parks. We have a lot of trails. It’s time to build some indoor facilities.”
Boone County Commissioner Skip Elkin added, “To compete, we’re going to have to continue to buck up for facilities.”
However, separate efforts to raise enough private and public money to build an indoor basketball complex and an ice rink have failed in recent years.
“If we had one united group out there pushing for it, we might have different odds of success,” Hood said. “There are other communities that are building some wonderful facilities, and they are going to be in competition with us.”
Elkin noted that the state General Assembly passed legislation that allows counties to authorize a Regional Recreation District that can charge a surtax in a specified area – such as the Boone County Fairgrounds – much like a Transportation Development District.
“The county has the ability to pass a countywide one-half-cent sales tax,” Elkin added. “But I don’t think we’re there yet.”
The city also could ask voters to approve an increase in the park tax or the lodging tax to build indoor facilities, forum participants said.
Hood said the park system’s master plan includes space in the new southeast regional park for indoor facilities “when the community decides that it would be appropriate to build them out there.”
The quarter-cent park sales tax, which was permitted for a five-year period and generates about $12 million per year, is due to expire in March 2011.
“We expect to go back to the voters with some kind of package some time in 2010,” Hood said.
Building a basketball arena with about a dozen courts would cost about $8 million, Ash said, and Hood said including such a construction project with park tax revenue would require a rate increase.
Tim Jamieson, MU’s baseball coach, said that, considering the revenue generated by sporting events, the hotels, restaurants and other businesses that benefit from sports tourism “should be kicking in. If you want to build a facility without taxation, there ought to be a sense of obligation and appreciation for the things that are done in the city and county.”
POWER LUNCH PARTICIPANTS
- Ken Ash, executive director, Show-Me State Games
- Julie Ausmus, manager, Tourism Development Program, Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau
- Beau Baehman, marketing and public relations director, Columbia Orthopedic Group
- Bob Burchard, director of athletics, Columbia College
- Skip Elkin, Boone County commissioner
- Chris Gervino, sports anchor, KOMU-TV
- Tim Jamieson, head baseball coach, MU athletics
- Emily Lorenz, director of communications, Show-Me State Games
- Phil Porter, president, Daniel Boone Little League
- Tim Rooney, director of budget, MU
- Jeff Shoultz, general manager, Mizzou Sports Properties, Learfield Sports
- Kerwin Urhahn, executive director, MSHSAA
From The Callaway Bank
- Craig Brumfield, development officer
- Bob Fisher, vice president, commercial lender
- Gary Meyerpeter, president
- Neal Wilkinson, mortgage lender
CVB using tax revenue to attract sporting events
In 2006, the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau began allocating part of the city’s 4 percent lodging tax revenue to subsidize sporting events that were expected to bring a significant number of hotel guests to Columbia.
The Tourism Development Program was set up in 2001, using one quarter of the total lodging tax, but Manager Julie Ausmus said the original guidelines did not allow the tax revenue to be used for “what sporting events really need,” such as trophies and medals, site fees and payments to umpires and officials.
So the CVB separated the program into three funds: sporting events, attraction development and festivals and events.
Our goal is to get people to come and stay in our hotels,” Ausmus said during a CBT lunch forum on Sporting Events and the Local Economy.
A 12-member advisory board appointed by the City Council meets once a month and recommends events to receive allocations from the sporting events fund. Events can be funded for up to three years, and the events must grow over time to maintain funding.
“For sporting events, you see an economic impact right away,” Ausmus said. One of her favorite events, she said, was the Little League baseball tournament for players 16 to 18 years old. The CVB estimated that participants and spectators would book 700 to 800 hotel “room nights” during the event held during 10 days in August.
The CVB also has also helped raise funds and obtain grants for events held in Columbia.
“CVB-sponsored fundraisers are responsible in a lot of ways for us being here,” said Ken Ash, the Show-Me State Games executive director. (The Olympic-style event marked its 25th anniversary this year.) “Without that money, we would not have been able to sustain those activities or even start them.”