ROCK HILL — Sports tourism brought $17 million to Rock Hill last year and theres opportunity to rake in even more, one former City Council member says.
There is a market for us to get in the middle of, said John Getty, who served on the council from 2002 to 2010. And we need to be prepared to play a stronger hand.
His suggestion to City Council last week: Establish a sports commission in Rock Hill.
It would be a group of conveners, he said, so Rock Hill isnt re-inventing the wheel each time the city brings a new sporting event to town.
Gettys told council members that when the city had a sports commission years ago, it was very effective.
Rock Hill has hosted events such as the Shrine Bowl a high school football showdown between South Carolina and North Carolina players in the past. Spartanburg now hosts that annual game, which attracted more than 10,000 spectators last year.
Rock Hill hosted the Atlantic Coast Conference womens basketball tournament finals from 1991 to 1996. That tournament also has been in Charlotte and most recently was in Greensboro, N.C.
Theres no reason Rock Hill cant grow beyond its most recent success, Gettys said, of hosting a national youth soccer tournament and championship cycling races.
One day, he said, the city might host Olympic trials or gain leverage for things like TV rights.
We have things (facilities) now that we didnt have back then, he said.
Taxpayers have funded those new facilities the Manchester Meadows soccer complex and the Giordana Velodrome over the past 10 years.
Bringing more cleats and athletes into Rock Hill would open the door for sports tourism to pay for itself and then some, Getty said.
Last year, businesses in the city saw $17 million in direct economic impact from sports tourism, said Steven Gibson, Rock Hills management and budget director.
Those millions come from heads on beds overnight guests filling the seats of local restaurants and visitors tanking up their cars as they head back out of town.
Every restaurant in the city pumps 2 percent of those sales into the citys bank account in the form of a local tax.
On top of the 2 percent local food and beverage tax is the local and state accommodations tax making up what Rock Hill calls the hospitality tax.
The city took in $4.5 million in hospitality taxes last year $642,000 of that came from hotels.
State law lets cities use a portion of that tax to run and maintain tourism-related facilities a category that expands beyond building more soccer fields or maintaining public parks.
Cities also can use sales tax dollars to build infrastructure such as roads or utility systems that support tourism-related facilities.
Rock Hill spent more than a third of the $4.5 million from sales tax on operating its existing tourism facilities last year.
Another $1.9 million was used to pay off debt owed on facilities such as Manchester Meadows or the Velodrome. This year, $863,000 went toward paying off the debt on the soccer facility.
The remaining tax money is fluid in its use, Gibson said. The City Council may assign the money not used for capital projects or operations to support community events such as ChristmasVille or Red, White and Boom.
State law doesnt allow the city to spend the hospitality tax money on anything unrelated to tourism.
Gettys said Rock Hill residents should be able to see a clear measurement of the economic impact of events right after they happen.
Making sure that happens would be just one function of a sports commission in the city, he said.
They would also be out there drumming up support before we commit to events, Gettys said. The sports commission would be ambassadors for our city.
Anna Douglas 803-329-4068