Wichita should see big returns on its $650,000 investment in bowling tourney, tourism official says

03/12/2013 6:56 PM

03/13/2013 8:13 AM

Wichita got a bargain when it landed the 2019 United States Bowling Congress women’s tournament, a competitor for the event says.

Tourism officials in Reno, Nev., the de facto home of the USBC in the city-owned, $45 million National Bowling Stadium, say Wichita cannot lose economically by kicking in $650,000 to land the annual bowling classic.

“It boils down to this,” said Ben McDonald, communications director for the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority. “If you can’t make an investment for a group bringing thousands of people like this to your city over three months, what can you invest in?

“I’m not sure any other organization in the country brings people like this to your destination for such an extended period of time.”

Wichita City Council members will vote, probably later this month, on the $650,000 financial incentive package to land the tournament, which will bring about 30,000 bowlers to Wichita from April through June 2019. The package is significantly less than the $2.1 million the city offered to land the 2011 men’s tournament; it ultimately lost the bid in 2007 over a Century II contract squabble.

The women bowlers are expected to generate about $14 million in economic impact for the city.

According to figures supplied by the City Council, the sources of funding include:

• $200,000 hotel rebate, or surcharge on hotel rooms, returned to Go Wichita, the city’s tourism arm, and then the USBC.
• $343,000 in sales and guest tax receipts from additional room nights and other economic activity generated by the tournament.
• $106,600 in guest tax reserves. The city’s guest bed tax is an extra tax levied against guests at Wichita hotels. It is used to promote convention and tourism pursuits and for maintenance and upgrades at Century II.

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer said no direct taxpayer money is included in the incentive package and that all of the money will be generated by Wichita visitors. The money is the bowling association’s to spend, Brewer said, and is not earmarked for specific uses by the city.

“There’s no doubt it’s a good deal,” Brewer said, a position echoed Tuesday by Go Wichita officials.

“We know what the return is – $14 million – and this is a $650,000 investment we have to be willing to make,” the mayor said.

That price tag is cheap to Reno officials, who have $60 million invested in their bowling facility, managed by the tourism board.

“Bowling in general has been absolutely huge for us,” McDonald said. “It’s going to bring in 100,000 room nights this year for us through the USBC. Our job in return is to create a great experience for bowlers to come through, so it’s a win-win for us having so many through town that it benefits us greatly.”

It’s a big economic boost for Reno in 2013, with men’s and women’s tournaments scheduled, and a centerpiece of the city’s efforts to diversify economically as the popularity of gaming there has waned. Reno officials have a contract with the USBC through 2030, McDonald said, to be a primary host for its major tournaments. Seven of the large events are scheduled through 2019.

“There is gaming in 48 states now, so it’s not the big draw it used to be for our state,” he said. “We pull primarily from northern California, and there’s three casinos between Reno and San Francisco now, so gaming is just not the draw it used to be. You have to diversify, and we’re fortunate that our leaders saw that need dating back into the mid-1990s.”

Brewer said Wichita wants to be an option for the bowling association when it holds events outside of Reno.

“Our No. 1 objective is we want to get some of that business and bring it here,” he said. “From the bowlers, and from every place else.”

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