A sporting chance for tourism in Pierce County

Sports play an important role in the economic development of Pierce County.

That was the message from Brad Moeller, executive director of the Tacoma-Pierce County Sports Commission, during Thursday’s Lakewood Chamber of Commerce general membership luncheon at the Tacoma Country & Golf Club.

“How do you create tourism through sports?” he asked rhetorically, noting sports probably does more to bring people to the region than anything else.

Specifically, the traveling people do to participate in and/or watch tournaments and competitions brings money to the South Sound region.
“Tourism in Lakewood is a misunderstood niche,” Moeller said. “So it’s a very unique niche.”

Some 3,000 requests for information from visitors have been received by the chamber, noted Tony Robinson, chair of the board of directors of the Lakewood Chamber.

Speaking of the area more broadly, Moeller noted, “Quite frankly, most people are astonished when they come to Pierce County. They see the natural beauty. We are very fortunate to be where we are.”

Indeed, Tacoma-Pierce County is the second largest metropolitan area in the state, with a population of over 700,000. The region boasts a vast range of landscapes, from beaches to forests to the summit of Mount Rainier, thus offering sports enthusiasts a vast array of outdoor activities such as kayaking, hiking and golf.

Other sports- and recreation-related amenities that draw people to the area include the Tacoma Rainiers baseball team, which plays at Cheney Stadium and is a farm team for the Seattle Mariners. Tacoma is also home to the world’s largest wood-domed arena, the Tacoma Dome, which is able to host a variety of major events, holding up to 28,000 spectators.

There are also annual events, such as various high school championship tournaments and The Sound to Narrows 12K run, which is one of the top 25 foot races in the United States, drawing 10,000 runners of all ages.

“They’re realizing the economic impact of sports,” Moeller said of government and business officials.

Recent figures from the Tacoma Regional Convention & Visitor Bureau show the visitors spent nearly $650 million in Pierce County in 2003, an increase of 4 percent from 2002, according to a report prepared by Dean Runyon Associates, a Portland market-ing and economic research firm. The report also stated the money spent generated over 10,000 jobs and more than $55.6 million in state and local tax revenue.

Moeller advised a more comprehensive approach when it comes to luring sporting events to the region, instead of cities within the county fighting against each other.

“We need to think county-wide,” he said. “Nobody’s really looking at the grand picture, county-wide.”

He also said it was important to maintain a year-round focus, specifically with regard to school-related programs.

“Our focus is a 9-month window that doesn’t include June, July and August,” he noted.

Some of the upcoming regional sporting events for the year include the following:

– May 28-29, state 3A and 4A softball tournament, Tacoma;

– May 30-June 1, Special Olympics State Summer Games, Fort Lewis;

– June 27, Tour de Pierce, Puyallup;

– July 9, Tacoma Athletic Commission Scholarship Golf Tournament, Allenmore Golf Course;

– Oct. 9, UCI Grand Prix of Cyclocross, Fort Steilacoom Park.

Officials are working at bringing other events to the region, such as dragon boat races at Freedom Fair and a national badminton tournament.

Moeller also spoke out in favor of the proposed world class Chambers Creek Golf Course.

“To me, it’s a great idea,” he said. “Strictly from a tourism standpoint, I’m all for it.”

The Tacoma-Pierce County Sports Commission, a non-profit organization with an annual budget of $130,000, was created in 1991 to assist in the the development of amateur athletic programs, promote the region as a destination for major sporting events and and maximize the use of the area’s facilities.