County renews push to attract events and boost tourism
Many summers ago, softball teams nationwide regularly competed on York County fields, Eric Menzer recalled. Those tournaments generated a lot of tourism dollars for businesses.
Recently, the county has renewed its push to attract organized sporting events. Last month, the South Atlantic Regional Figure Skating Championships generated more than $1.5 million in tourism revenue. The longer visitors stay, the more likely they are to buy food, patronize retailers and gas up their vehicles, said Anne Druck, president of the York County Convention and Visitors Bureau. To help county sports facilities woo more large-scale athletic contests, the bureau will spend $15,000 to market sports. It will use the money to publish a directory of county sports facilities and to pay for membership in a national sports trade association.
The goal: to double the number of local hotel room stays linked to sporting events over three years. Last year, that figure was 8,000, according to the bureau.
Though the bureau has traditionally focused on drawing business travelers, vacationers also spend money, said Menzer, vice president of real estate for Wagman Construction Inc. in Manchester Township, York County. He supports the bureau’s new sports marketing program.
The $24 million minor-league baseball stadium planned for York would attract other sporting events, Menzer said. He had promoted the project when he was the city’s economic development director. The York City Ice Arena, which opened last year, has surpassed people’s expectations, he said. Built for the community, the arena attracted about 1,000 skaters during the South Atlantic event.
Steve Mitchell is chairman of the York City Recreation Corp., a nonprofit organization that runs the ice arena and is leading the minor-league baseball project. Sports can help area businesses improve their work forces, he said.
“If a city our size is going to keep its young professionals here, you have to have things for them to do,” Mitchell said. “If local industry tries to recruit someone here and their kids like ice hockey or skating and we don’t have anything for them, then we’ll lose them.”
To lure more youths during the ice arena’s slow summer months, the recreation group might offer new sports and entertainment options, Mitchell said. A skateboard park, a carnival, laser tag and miniature golf are among the ideas, he said.
Little League Baseball could be on tap for the White Rose city, Mitchell said.
The YMCA of York and York County is working with York city and Little League officials to bring the league to the city, said Larry Richardson, president and chief executive officer at the YMCA. The YMCA and York city are negotiating to build four Little League fields in the city, he said.
About a week ago, the YMCA opened a baseball and softball training academy at its headquarters, Richardson said. The operation teaches hitting, pitching and catching to athletes 8 and older on an appointment basis, he said. The community leader is a native of Williamsport, the headquarters of Little League Baseball.
The idea is born
Meetings, conventions and motor-coach tours have long been the desired endgame for the county’s convention and visitors bureau, said Mary Smith, the group’s sales director. Then she read an article about how sporting events could spur economic development. After chatting up workers at other bureaus and gauging the interest of county sports facility managers and hoteliers, she decided to form a sports committee.
By January, Smith’s organization plans to complete the first York County Sports Facilities Guide, which will showcase 22 county businesses. Among them will be Ski Roundtop and Colony Park Lanes, which runs two bowling alleys.
In April, the county bureau plans to attend the National Association of Sports Commissions’ annual trade show in Tennessee. The bureau joined the NASC to market its sports facilities to a broader pool of sporting-events planners.
Smith also is thinking big in her efforts to bring sporting events to the county.
Last month, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Inc. held its 2002 Golf Championships at Heritage Hills Golf Resort in York Township. The event created 500 hotel-room stays at county hotels, Smith said. The PIAA intends to hold the event there for the next two years, she said.
The PIAA is a nonprofit organization that represents junior and senior high schools statewide. The group runs competitions in sports such as cross-country, soccer and wrestling.
“Now we can go after them, too,” Smith said.
Eugene DePasquale, director of economic development for York city, spoke of the importance of luring events like the regional ice-skating competition and the PIAA’s golf contest.
“Those are quality events because the people are definitely from outside the area,” DePasquale said. “They give you a chance to crow about what you’re doing because they’re here for three or four days.”
The sports facility with arguably the greatest potential is the York Expo Center arena, Smith said. Currently under construction, the arena will have 5,500 seats when it opens in September.
Above all things, the arena will be flexible, to accommodate a myriad of users, said Gene Schenck, vice president of the York County Agricultural Society. His nonprofit entity owns the center. Trade shows, concerts and sporting events will all be welcome at the 114,000-square-foot arena, he said.
“It will be big enough for a basketball tournament, a soccer championship or an indoor motorsports event,” Schenck said. The arena will have about half of the seating capacity of the new Giant Center in Hershey, which can seat up to 12,500.
The county has two other notable new sports venues. The Blast is a sprawling complex in Manchester Township that can accommodate indoor soccer, lacrosse, arena football, basketball, field hockey, in-line hockey and volleyball. Sportsplex in Red Lion has indoor volleyball, racquetball, soccer, batting cages and a weightlifting center.
Druck of the county convention and visitors bureau is looking to improve an old favorite.
Her organization plans to collect funds to upgrade the 11 softball fields at Bob Hoffman Stadium in York. The fields surround the ice arena.
Druck hopes the changes would return the stadium to its glory days. Her interest is more than nostalgic.
“We want to secure more softball tournaments,” Druck said.