Garden City Mayor John Doll made a strong first pitch.
Acting on requests and concerns about tourism-related events in the city, Doll organized a "community conversation" geared at encouraging discussion on how to bring sports events to town.
Doll, who has spent time as a coach, knows the power of sporting events in luring people to town. Soon after becoming mayor in April, Doll listed efforts to attract those events to Garden City as a goal.
He wasn't alone. Local hoteliers also have asked for more aggressive strategies to bring new events to town as a way to generate more business for motels, restaurants and local retailers.
To get headed in that direction, a group of coaches, school administrators, representatives of recreation organizations, hoteliers and economic development officials gathered recently at the mayor's request to discuss possibilities.
It was a good start. The session helped raise awareness of potential events and how groups interested in bringing tournaments and other sporting events to town should proceed.
While it may seem obvious to some, not everyone would know to contact the Finney County Convention and Tourism Bureau if they want to plan a local sports event.
The local CTB does a good job of promoting and supporting events that bring many people to town, ranging from the Hot Air Balloon Classic to the 3i Show and beyond. But anyone interested in planning a softball tournament or comparable event may not have known they could seek assistance.
The recent gathering helped stakeholders better understand how the system could work. Local organizations should have been encouraged to hear resources are available through the CTB for marketing sports events.
Some groups are ready to take advantage. For example, everyone in the room had to be impressed by the promise from Robert Gonzales, owner of Bad Boyz Boxing Club, who said he could bring hundreds of boxers, officials and fans to Garden City if he could get some fiscal and community support with facilities and advertising.
Many such events result in three or four days of people coming to town to spend money — the kind of knockout opportunity local forces should pursue, and as soon as possible.
Tournaments should be a natural in this community. The city boasts a variety of good playing fields for sports ranging from baseball to soccer, as well as outstanding golf courses and a good number of suitable venues for indoor events.
Of course, those facilities must be kept in top shape for Garden City to remain an attractive destination. Moving forward, anyone who would question an investment in ball fields and other public facilities should consider how such spending could pay off in visits from athletes, their families and other spectators.
People will travel great distances for youth and adult tournaments. Strategies to promote Garden City as an event site should extend well beyond Finney County.
When it comes to pulling all of those efforts together, talk has centered on whether to hire a point person to coordinate sporting events. For now, groups interested in local events should take advantage of what the CTB has to offer.
The expertise and resources are available. Helping stakeholders learn more about the possibilities was a step in the right direction.
As Doll said: "We need better coordination between groups to make this thing powerful. The ball's being dropped somewhere."
Yet there's still plenty of time to rebound. After all, everyone in the room during the recent discussion wanted the same thing: new events to bring even more visitors to a community that already has much to offer, and should become an even bigger player in hosting sports tournaments and events.
All involved just need to work as a team to make that happen.
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