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City, local hospitality officials hoping to land NCAA basketball regional

Hospitality and Tourism
Chuck Crumbo
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With the Confederate flag no longer waving from a pole on the Statehouse grounds, city of Columbia leaders are putting together a bid to host a NCAA men’s regional basketball tournament.

“The opportunities that are open to the city of Columbia and Midlands” now that the flag has been removed and the NCAA has lifted its ban of predetermined postseason events being played in South Carolina “are just significant,” Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said in an interview.

“It would be foolish for us to not take advantage of those opportunities, so we’re resolutely chasing NCAA basketball tournaments,” Benjamin said following this morning’s session of the 2016 Power Breakfast Series hosted by the Columbia Regional Business Report at the Columbia Marriott.


The 18,000-seat Colonial Life Area was envisioned as a potential event for major NCAA-sanctioned sports events. (Photo/University of South Carolina)


The National Collegiate Athletic Association is seeking bids for sites for men’s regional basketball tournaments in 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022.

The city has hired consultant Ron Morris, a former sports columnist for The State newspaper, to help with the process, Benjamin said. Bids will be submitted by mid-August.

Other organizations that would join in the effort to pitch Columbia as a future site for a NCAA tournament include the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Sports Council and the University of South Carolina.

“We are encouraged by the dialogue that has been happening,” Benjamin said. “Everybody is working together on that and other events.”

The 18,000-seat Colonial Life Arena located at the confluence of the USC campus and the Vista entertainment district would be a venue for big-ticket NCAA events such as a men’s basketball regional tournament.

In August, S.C. sports tourism leaders traveled to NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis to promote the Palmetto State as a host for events sanctioned by the organization.

The entourage was headed by Duane Parrish, director of the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, and members of the S.C. Sports Alliance. The S.C. contingent thanked the NCAA for lifting its ban on the state and met with about 30 representatives of the organization's championship division, according to PRT.

The Confederate flag came down in July after Gov. Nikki Haley called on General Assembly to remove it following the June 17 massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. It was there that a gunman espousing racist epithets shot to death nine black people, including state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, at the historic African-American church.

Assessing the economic impact of hosting a major NCAA event such as a basketball regional can be difficult.

Cleveland officials estimated that the NCAA Midwest men’s regional basketball tourney in March 2015 contributed around $10 million to the local economy. The Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, though, tempered those numbers by noting that campuses of three of the four schools in the tourney – Kentucky, Notre Dame and West Virginia – were within 350 miles of Cleveland and traditionally travel well, possibly boosting attendance.

The Columbus, Ohio, sports commission estimates four men’s regional basketball tournaments played since 2004 in the Buckeye State capital have generated an average impact of $10 million per year. Meanwhile, Jacksonville, Fla., officials said the 2015 men’s regional tourney produced nearly $11 million in economic impact.

A more accurate assessment of a tournament’s impact is instead the value it has to the locals, Benjamin said.

“It’s our job to create opportunity for our citizens to reap benefits,” Benjamin said. “I want heads in beds. I want hoteliers to fill up their hotels. I want our restaurants to fill every seat, and I want to make sure that the reputation of the city continues to grow and shine.

“Everything is not calculated in tax revenue but in overall economic impact to our folks who made the decision to invest in our city. And that’s the measure we use.”

Reach Chuck Crumbo at 803-726-7542.

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