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Rec facility an opportunity to expand sports tourism

Posted: July 28, 2011 8:20 a.m.
Updated: July 29, 2011 5:00 a.m.

In Camden, we are known for our rich history, our generous hospitality and our renowned horse culture.

For many outsiders, the equine industry in Camden boils down to one or two days a year, but the economic impact of sports tourism on our community is remarkable, and we are facing an opportunity to expand it.

Almost every weekend, visitors from across the country pile into our hotels and restaurants because of the South Carolina Equine Park located just outside of town. The direct economic impact that the Equine Park has on the City of Camden is difficult to measure, but clearly very large.

The Camden Sports Complex project presents us with an opportunity to further our reputation for sports tourism. The equine industry, while valuable and historically significant to our area, isn’t as easy to accommodate as youth sports. Imagine a weekend spent downtown at the new recreation complex following your son’s regional soccer tournament or your daughter’s traveling volleyball team. The opportunity before us now is to create a facility that can host large-scale, regional sports tournaments and attract visitors from across the southeast to downtown Camden.

This weekend, the Big League World Series will take place in Easley, South Carolina, at the city’s recreation complex. The tournament is made up of teams from around the world featuring players who are 16 to 18 years old. Some of the games are broadcast by ESPN, and the economic impact it has each year on Easley is huge.

If each visiting family spends $200 a day (a conservative estimate) on hotel rooms, gas, food and supplies, and the tournament attracts 200 families from around the world (also a conservative estimate), the seven-day tournament would generate $280,000 for the local economy. Add that total to the impact made by dozens of smaller tournaments held in Easley each year, and the economic implications become even larger.

In Simpsonville, the new city-owned Heritage Park hosts multiple large sports tournaments a year as well as family reunions, parties and large outdoor concerts. The park generates millions of dollars of revenue each year for local businesses.

In Barnwell, the recently-completed Lemon Park hosts several regional sports tournaments a year, and a standing sports committee actively recruits teams and tournaments to use the park and explore Barnwell.

While our vision for the recreation facility does not necessarily include worldwide sports tournaments, the chance to host several small events in a variety of different sports is something this facility will allow us to pursue. Tennis tournaments, soccer tournaments, volleyball tournaments and basketball tournaments will be possible on a larger scale than ever before in Camden.

Partnering with Kershaw County and the Kershaw County School District to organize, promote and host events could also allow us to take our sports tourism to a new level.

The idea behind this complex is to give our community something we haven’t had before -- a place to host events, showcase our community and attract people to Camden that otherwise would never have come. We might see the 2011 First Invitational Basketball Tournament or the Camden Step Show become a major economic impact for us. Opportunities abound.

The opportunity is before us to expand sports tourism in Camden beyond the equine industry that we’re known for. Horses and equine events will always be the backbone of sports tourism in our community, but to throw away this opportunity to expose thousands of new people to Camden is one that we can’t afford to waste.

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