CIAA Tournament goes out strong

The event sets a record for economic impact before leaving Raleigh for Charlotte

Staff WriterMarch 23, 2005 

After six years of steady improvement in size, impact and prosperity, the CIAA basketball tournament ended its run in Raleigh this year with a slam dunk.

The event registered a record-breaking $12 million economic impact, more than 27,000 hotel nights and better than $1 million in local taxes, according to figures released Tuesday by the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"Heck, it's been a record year every single year it's been in Raleigh," said Dave Heinl, the bureau's director.

This year's tournament was in Raleigh from Feb. 28 to March 5.

Since 1999, the CIAA's last year in Winston-Salem, turnstile attendance and economic impact have more than doubled. Charlotte hosts the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association's signature event in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

According to the figures released Tuesday, thousands of visitors stayed in local hotels -- including those in Research Triangle Park, Durham and Durham County -- and accounted for 27,424 hotel room nights. That beats last year's count, 25,887, by more than 1,500 room nights.

At the RBC Center, crowds boosted turnstile attendance to 94,801. Include those who entered with complimentary tickets and other passes, and overall attendance jumped to 110,028, a 5 percent increase over 2004.

CIAA fans also nearly doubled their collective contribution to government coffers through state and local sales taxes, hotel occupancy taxes and prepared food and beverage taxes, according to tax revenue calculations. These calculations don't factor what is brought in from gasoline and other taxed purchases.

From those pennies on each dollar spent, Raleigh and Wake County have been able to meet contractual commitments with the conference.

For 2005, the Raleigh CIAA steering committee needed to raise $1.1 million to cover $340,000 in guaranteed scholarship commitments to the 12 CIAA schools and $800,000 in tournament operating expenses.

As in prior years, the city and county helped cover those costs. Records from the city, the steering committee's fiscal agent, show two Raleigh advances totaling $140,000 since July and $65,000 from the county last month -- in all, $205,000 for the 2005 tourney.

Local CIAA boosters often have said that tax revenues brought by visitors outweigh that contribution.

To help meet the $1.1 million mark this year, the city hired Sports & Properties Inc., a professional sports fund-raising firm. But with less than $400,000 from corporate sponsorships and gifts, the city and county advances, $30,000 from the convention bureau and box suite sales, overall income for the local steering committee was $776,000 by the end of February, city ledgers show.

Since then, corporate contributions have reached $484,500, said Hill Carrow, a Sports & Properties fund-raiser.

"We're pretty pleased that it came in very close to what had been the case in prior years with all the publicity about the tourney going to Charlotte," he said.

The local CIAA steering committee paid the company $76,700 since September for its help.

The firm returned $10,000 in March, Carrow said, after suspending its fund-raising effort for a Raleigh-based CIAA hall of fame and headquarters -- an idea that has not been endorsed by the league's commissioner or its board of presidents and chancellors. The city logged that $10,000 as a scholarship donation.

Eyeing a new tourney

Triangle leaders are working to lure the Division I Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference basketball tournament, which now draws about half the number of CIAA fans, using the area's expertise nurturing a black basketball tourney and the accompanying social extravaganza.

By every indicator, the Division II CIAA has grown into a must-attend event for black-college basketball fans and those who enjoy the parties, receptions, alumni get-togethers, fashion shows and other spinoff activities.

The same could happen for the MEAC, whose 11 colleges have twice as many students, larger alumni bases and more graduate programs and professional schools. Its men's and women's championship basketball teams have berths in the NCAA's March Madness.

A decision from MEAC leaders is expected in the next few weeks -- "hopefully the first week of April," Heinl said, adding that Raleigh is thought to be in the running with Winston-Salem, Baltimore and Richmond, Va., which wrapped its eighth MEAC basketball tourney earlier this month.

N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro is the state's only MEAC school, although the CIAA's Winston-Salem State University has applied for membership. The Triangle has three of the 12 CIAA colleges: Shaw University and St. Augustine's College in Raleigh and Durham's N.C. Central University.

Staff writer Cindy George can be reached at 829-4656 or cgeorge@newsobserver.com.

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