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Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)
Chesterfield County residents will soon see what county leaders hope is a trend that will continue to bring new revenue to the county for years to come.
For about five weeks beginning Feb. 21, the county will host two major soccer tournaments and a high school swim championship.
The events will bring in thousands of athletes, their coaches and their parents who will bring millions of dollars to county coffers by way of taxes from hotels, restaurants and shops.
The promise of additional revenue couldn't come at a better time for Chesterfield, which is struggling to make ends meet after years of cuts and costly new projects on the horizon.
County officials, who are currently debating the shape of the budget, are weighing increased property taxes or slashing services.
Chesterfield still expects to be $7 million short on its operating budget for next year, a figure that grows to nearly $25 million when capital costs are added.
"It has a significant impact because people stop in our community and they spend money. They buy goods, they buy services, they eat in our restaurants. And they stay in our hotels," said James M. "Jim" Holland, chairman of the Board of Supervisors.
Sporting events brought 67,288 out-of-town visitors to the county and were attended by 129,850 people in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2013, Metropolitan Richmond Sports Backers Executive Director Jon Lugbill told supervisors in August.
All told, sports tourism had an economic impact of $21.8 million in Chesterfield.
Mike Golden, director of the county's parks and recreation department, said sports tourism generated about $800,000 in sales and hotel tax revenue went straight to the county last year.
That, he said, doesn't count money that goes to local businesses and employees through sales and jobs creation. That money is then funneled back into the community through spending and taxes.
"It helps us provide services at lower cost to constituents," Holland said. "It helps us, an indirect way, to provide better for our constituents."
But, Holland contends, Chesterfield voters' decision in November to reject a meals tax means that money is being left on the table. Money, he said, the county could desperately use.
Holland said about 30 percent of revenue from the meals tax would have come from visitors.
Voters approved a $304 million bond referendum for building a school and renovating 10 others, but rejected a proposed 2 percent meals tax that was expected to generate about $6 million a year to help pay for the projects.
"Because we don't have a meals tax as our surrounding [localities] do, we don't recover that, unfortunately," he said. "The meals tax would have been the way we reaped rewards."
In contrast, neighboring Henrico County voters approved a meals tax of up to 4 percent in November. Officials have said that about half of the revenue collected will come from people who don't live in the county.
The money -- and the events -- aren't limited to Chesterfield, making sports tourism a financial windfall for the entire region.
In 2013, sports made up 53 percent of future bookings for Richmond Region Tourism, up 22 percent from 2012.
The Jefferson Cup, a three-weekend soccer tournament played at fields in the region, alone accounts for 21,650 room nights, according to Chris Friant, director of club operations for the tournament's organizer, the Richmond Strikers.
The tournament, which begins March 7, is expected to draw 900 teams and have an economic impact of about $12 million, he said.
Jack Berry, president of Richmond Region Tourism, the area's convention and visitors bureau, said the growth is driven by repeat events and from visitors seeing what the area can offer.
"Once they've had a positive experience here, they bring additional tournaments to the region," Berry said.
With about half the hotel and motel room capacity of the greater Richmond area within its borders, Henrico stands to significantly benefit from sports tourism.
John A. Vithoulkas, Henrico's county manager, touched on sports tourism in his State of Henrico County address earlier this month, and the county has its own webpage devoted to sports tourism headlined, "Come for the sports, stay for the fun!"
In June and July, there were 20 youth sports tournaments in Henrico involving 354 teams, 248 of which came from outside the region, according to a September presentation to the county's Board of Supervisors.
The events, which drew 5,310 participants and 16,295 spectators, had a total economic impact of more than $10.6 million.
Staff writer Ted Strong contributed to this report.