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January 3, 2011
By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

An estimate shows that activities at the Smith River Sports Complex had a nearly $400,000 impact on the local economy, and that is expected to grow this year, officials said.

The Piedmont Shootout youth soccer tournament alone injected more than $300,000 locally, according to Kimberly Payne, marketing director at the complex, and Billy Russo, operations manager there. The USA South college soccer tournament generated more than $52,000 in the area, they said.

Other events at the complex affected area businesses as well, but to a lesser degree, according to Russo and Payne. Estimates are that the Legendary Lacrosse Showcase, which featured prep players, generated at least $11,500; the Cougar Classic college soccer tournament, $10,000; and the Battle by the River club soccer tournament, about $8,500, according to Payne.

The estimates were provided by the National Association of Sports Commission and Sports Virginia, based on information submitted by Payne.

A proprietary method is used to calculate the impact, based mainly on the number of visitors staying in hotels, Payne said.

Some area hotels confirmed that their business increased when tournaments and other events were held at the complex.

Tammy Bowles, director of sales and marketing at the Quality Inn/Dutch Inn, said events held at the complex "have been wonderful for us. We have seen a huge increase with the two large events."

The increased business has helped fill in the gaps after "so many corporations have left," Bowles said.

The Econo Lodge (formerly Best Western) also saw a "slight increase. It's definitely helped increase" the number of rooms filled there, said Joyce Foddrell of the lodge's staff.

The biggest impact has come "from the family and teams" staying there, she said.

Jeffrey Parker, manager at the Jameson Inn, said business there also has increased, mainly during the Piedmont Shootout, when the inn was filled to capacity.

"Other than that, we've really not seen a difference," Parker said. But, he understands the complex still is growing and adding events, he said.

"Definitely more events" will generate more business, Parker said, adding that he "absolutely" hopes the complex will continue to add more events and tournaments.

Payne and Russo said the affect on hotels is proof that the entire community benefits when events are held at the complex. That is because visitors who stay in local hotels also eat in local restaurants, shop in local stores and buy necessities such as fuel, they said.

The complex also partners with local businesses, such as restaurants, to provide concessions at the complex, Russo said. That gives those businesses a boost, he added.

So far, events have attracted thousands of visitors from 14 states and Canada to the community, Payne said. That is based on surveys and information from hotels.

The number of events held at the complex has "tripled since last fall," Russo said. "We plan on bringing those events back and expanding" the activities in 2011.

He thinks that will happen, in part, because "we are finding that once we host" an event or tournament, it is easier to book the next year, Russo said.

Feedback from surveys and visitors also illustrates the popularity of the complex, he said.

A survey modeled after one used by the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. collects data that includes ZIP codes and whether a visitor stayed at a hotel, Payne said. Visitors also are asked if they bought gas, visited retail stores or restaurants and if they plan to return, she said.

The survey specifically asks "what they like most and what they like least," she said. Many indicated that the complex "is an amazing facility in an area they would not have expected," Payne said.

Of the surveys Payne has seen, visitors said they would return, she said.

Surveys are distributed online, at hotels, at the complex itself and on its website, and they are handed out to visitors during bigger events, Payne said.

The complex opened in July 2009, and has hosted soccer, football, flag football, field hockey and lacrosse events.