Saturday, February 24, 2018
Business

Pasco rolls out welcome mat for rugby, senior bowling tournaments

Rugby and bowling fans, rejoice!

Pasco is set to host national events for both sports this year as it tries to boost its reputation as a sporting and outdoor mecca.

The county's Tourist Development Council approved sponsorship grants Wednesday for a youth rugby national tournament and a Professional Bowlers Association senior tour event. Both grants await final approval from the County Commission.

The tourist council was divided 5-3 in favor of the $22,500 sponsorship of the rugby tournament. The first-year event is being promoted by Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, the same group that hosts the popular Dick's Sporting Goods national lacrosse tournament in Wesley Chapel.

The rugby event would use a similar format, with competitive youth teams vying for a chance to play in a national tournament at the Land O'Lakes Recreation Complex. Both tournaments would be held at the same time, from Dec. 29-31. Tourism director Eric Keaton said the holiday weekend encourages participants and their families to stay in town longer.

Several council members said the tournament is a chance to be on the "ground floor" of a sport poised to gain popularity once it joins the Summer Olympics lineup in 2016. The event would also strengthen the relationship with the lacrosse tournament, Pasco's biggest sporting event.

"It's a bit of a risk, but I think it's worth trying," said Dade City Mayor Camille Hernandez.

There are some risks. The lacrosse tournament already fills up many Pasco hotels, so the county might not have much room for rugby visitors. Add to that a relative lack of hotel space in the Land O'Lakes area, and many players might stay in North Tampa or the West Shore area.

"You're not going to get the rooms in Pasco County," said Greg Riehle, general manager of Saddlebrook Resort. "They're going to go to Hillsborough."

Riehle also worried that the county would help incubate the event for a few years before it leaves for greener fields elsewhere. "This event, if it gets going and germinates, will not stay in Pasco County," he said.

County Commissioner Ted Schrader said he hopes participants will persuade event organizers to move the tournament to a different weekend to spread out the hotel demand.

The tourist council also gave its blessing to another first-time event, a stop on the PBA senior tour. The event at New Port Richey's Lane Glo bowling alley would be held April 14-17, kicking off this year's schedule of 11 tournaments. The Villages retirement community is hosting a similar event two days later, which creates a convenient trip for bowlers and fans.

Part of the county's $6,750 sponsorship would pay for promotions such as fliers at bowling centers across Florida and commercials on an oldies radio station.

Event organizer Gary Beck expects 160 senior pros to attend and hopes to attract several hundred pro-am bowlers who want to see their favorite stars in person. He projected the event would generate 500 hotel room bookings.

Beck acknowledged that an event's first year is risky but compared the process to "giving birth to an elephant." After the birth, he said, all you have to do is give the animal hay and water and it gets really big. Though he didn't commit to bringing the event back next year, he hopes for a "long-term relationship."

"My confidence level is high that we'll have an event that is successful," Beck said.

Gail Cushman, sales director for Port Richey's Days Inn and Suites, said she is familiar with other bowling tournaments and can vouch for the enthusiasm of the fans.

"I think it's a good opportunity for us to get involved," she said. "They do fill up the hotels. That's our basic goal, to get the heads in beds."

Contracts for both events include clauses that tie roughly half the money to whether organizers meet goals for visitors and hotel bookings.

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