City seeks more motels, businesses for influx of visitorsFrom November through mid-June, the Crookston Sports Center is home to 20 youth hockey tournaments. The tournaments attract more than 2,000 out-of-town players — and their family members. The town of 8,000 seeks more motels to accommodate them.
By: Ryan Bakken, Grand Forks Herald
CROOKSTON — In this town of 8,000, youth hockey is not just an activity. It’s also an economic driver.
From November through mid-June, the Crookston Sports Center is home to 20 youth hockey tournaments. The tournaments attract more than 2,000 out-of-town players — and their family members.
“At least one parent, if not two, plus a sibling or two travel with them,” said Scott Riopelle, the city’s parks and recreation director. “You’re talking another 6,000 people on top of the players.”
The CSC is in its third year of operation, replacing the two arenas that were demolished to make room for flood protection. At that time, the case was successfully made to build a three-rink facility, to attract tournaments and provide multi-purpose uses.
The strategy has proven successful, as hockey has become more than just a winter sport. Built with state money, the facility will be home to 12 tournaments on the 11 weekends from April 5 to June 16. The rapid growth of girls hockey in the last decade has contributed to the demand.
When the number of ice sheets in use diminish as winter turns to spring, the space also is used for other sports teams’ practices and for the non-sporting events such as dances, craft shows and weddings. But youth hockey is the facility’s centerpiece.
“Part of the reason was to get our kids on the ice more often,” Riopelle said. “The other reason was that we could bring more activities into the community and get more dollars spent here.
“There are a lot of tournaments around the area, but if you bring them into a facility with all the rinks under one roof, people like that. It is a plus.”
Riopelle was on the sports center’s planning committee, which was influenced by an academic study about the money infusions from youth tournaments.
Impact on lodging
Shannon Stassen, the president and CEO of the Crookston Area Chamber of Commerce, said the numbers show the economic impact of youth sports tournaments.
He cites the increase of lodging taxes. From Nov. 1, 2011, through Oct. 31, 2012, lodging taxes were up 20 percent to $55,900. In the 12 months prior to that — the first year of the CSC — the increase was 8 percent.
“The arena has been a big deal, making a difference in the number of people coming to our community,” Stassen said.
That has been true with other sports, too. In fact, the city’s biggest sporting event is a youth basketball tournament in March that attracts more than 1,000 to town. It’s the biggest attraction except for the annual Ox Cart Days summer celebration, Stassen said.
Local officials note that pursuing sporting events is a good fit because of its recreation facilities. In addition to hockey and basketball, the city has the quantity and quality of facilities to host events for baseball, softball, figure skating, soccer and tennis, they say.
A proven strategy
Crookston is not alone in capitalizing on sports tournaments.
Julie Rygg, the Greater Grand Forks Visitors and Convention Bureau executive director, said 31 sporting events — attracting an estimated 34,000 visitors — are anticipated in 2013.
“And that’s just from events that are working with us,” Rygg said. “I’m sure there are many more events out there that aren’t going through us.”
Rygg said youth sporting events are preferred over adult ones because “the entire family comes with them. And, typically, they’re looking for more activities outside the games. When it’s an adult tournament, typically you have adults sharing rooms with other adults.”
For lodging, meals and shopping, the standard is that $125 per day per visitor is spent, Rygg said. Youth tournaments typically last two or three days.
Although the tournaments have provided a big boost, Crookston leaders don’t believe the events’ full economic potential has been tapped. The biggest drawback is a shortage of motel rooms, forcing families to commute to the multi-day tournaments or seek lodging in neighboring cities such as Grand Forks.
Crookston has 119 motel rooms, with 20 of them being used to house University of Minnesota-Crookston students. Another motel caters to long-stay boarders. And, the quality of some of the lodging does not reach expectations of visitors.
“We know from studies that if the people attending an event don’t stay in a motel in your town, you’re losing out big,” Stassen said. “If they spend $100 on a hotel, your community is really losing out on $500 because of money spent on fuel, entertainment, alcohol, meals and shopping.
“So, it’s critical to us that visitors stay.”
In addition to sending people to other cities, the lodging shortage prevents Crookston from landing bigger tournaments and other events.
“In the contract for certain events is a requirement of how many rooms need to be available,” Stassen said. “If you don’t meet the minimums of rooms, you aren’t even considered.”
Cobblestone Hotels announced in November that it will start building a 44-room hotel in the spring. Craig Hoiseth, executive director of the Crookston Housing and Economic Development Authority, said another motel is contemplating improvements.
“These tournaments also are a good opportunity to showcase Crookston to visitors,” Hoiseth said, indicating they could help in attracting businesses.
Although more lodging is being sought for sports tournament fans, one facility will open soon to fill the gap of no sports bar close to the arena. The Drafts Sports Bar & Grill, located next door to the Crookston Sports Center, is scheduled to open in mid-April.
“We chose the name for its double-meaning of a sports draft and the 30 different beer drafts we’ll have,” owner Brent Melsa said. “It’s a stereotypical sports bar, with lots of TVs, sports memorabilia and a typical menu that caters to families.”
Call Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1125; or send email to email@example.com.