The creation of more sports facilities — including the construction of a Major League Soccer Stadium — in Wake County were some of the key recommendations in a newly unveiled tourism plan.
A stadium regardless of its location is needed for Wake County, according to the plan, and could also host more than 75 events including other sporting events, entertainment-related events and small conferences and meetings.
MLS planned to add two new cities in 2017 and while Raleigh fought for one of the two spots, it was ultimately unsuccessful. Those expansions went to Nashville, Tenn., and Cincinnati, Ohio, but soccer leaders plan to add two more teams to its roster in the future and Raleigh is still under consideration. A stadium — proposed for state-owned land in downtown — would be critical to landing a team.
“There is definitely some opportunities to be a catalyst for growth and (have) a direct impact,” said Dennis Edwards, president and CEO of Visit Raleigh. “But it’s only going to be successful if it’s identified multi-uses. It’s not going to work if it’s strictly for soccer. So are there ways to use that stadium for other events really year round versus just just for soccer games. And I think that’s the challenge that the backers of the MLS have is making sure it’s a facility that can be used on a year-round basis.”
The Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau unveiled its new strategic plan during a press conference and luncheon Thursday morning.
Other sports-related recommendations include the construction of a 100,000-to-150,000-square-foot indoor sports complex that could include more than a dozen courts and seat more than 4,000 fans and spectators. It would be used to host youth and amateur games and tournaments.
Wake County gets weekly requests to host a large tournaments or events that could only fit at the indoor sports complex, Edwards said.
“We currently just don’t have that type of facility,” he said. “Something that can handle indoor tournaments, but also could potentially be turned into a small arena for 4,000 to 5,000 people. There are absolutely some multi-use events out there we could bring on a weekly basis.”
The plan also calls for the development of the Blue Ridge Corridor, an area that stretches down Blue Ridge Road and includes the North Carolina Museum of Art, UNC Rex Hospital and nearby PNC Arena and Carter-Finley Stadium. This could create a “sports, entertainment, arts, scientific, medical and agricultural campus” including renovations to PNC Arena to attract more events.
But there is a catch to the recommendation. It should happen only if the Carolina Hurricanes hockey team extend their lease.
PNC Arena was used 269 days out of the year in 2017, and more emphasis could be placed on hosting and scheduling events when the Hurricanes and the North Carolina State University basketball is in the off season.
The overall goal of the plan? Draw in 21.7 million visitors annually in Wake County by 2028. For context, more than 16 million visitors came to Wake in 2017.
More than 1,300 people were interviewed or surveyed for this plan. A team of stakeholders is tasked with following up with a list of short- and long-term goals and recommendations for each key priority.
It will take the combined efforts of the visitor’s bureau, private organizations, community members and local governments to make the work happen, Edwards said.
Here’s a look at some of the other key recommendations included in the more than 150-page report:
▪ Renovate and expand the Raleigh Convention Center to include more space and a “headquarters hotel” with at least 400 rooms.
▪ Figure out how to grow the area’s reputation around esports — usually video game competitions — and host gaming tournaments.
▪ Increase the number of “signature events and festivals” plus traveling or permanent exhibits at area museums and cultural institutions.
▪ Increase international tourism with people visiting from Canada, parts of Europe, China and India.
▪ Add design elements and “unique visitor experiences” to projects within the county, including Dix Park. These projects shouldn’t just be for the residents who live in the area, but a venue that can draw visitors.