2011-12-28 / Front Page

County tourism dollars on the rise

New sports facilities drawing visitors
By Nancy Nusser

Despite the lackluster economic recovery, spending on tourism is picking up at a swift pace in Chesterfield County.

The amount of tourism dollars spent in the county rose 8.6 percent to more than $363 million in 2010 compared to 2009, and the trend has continued in 2011, according to Jack Berry, president and CEO of the Richmond Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau. “This year is on track to be better than 2010,” he said.

The revenue has earned the county $8.3 million in sales tax, and the growth puts Chesterfield ahead of most of its regional neighbors, according to figures from the convention and visitors bureau. (See chart on page 17.)

Even Williamsburg – among Virginia’s most promoted tourism spots with more than twice as many hotel rooms as Chesterfield – is behind the county in growth in tourism dollars and not all that far ahead in total tourism income. “What will happen in 2011 is that you’ll really come close to Williamsburg,” Berry said.

Much of Chesterfield’s tourism revenue is generated by people visiting families and friends here, and the entire Richmond region has benefited from the Sesquicentennial – the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, which has drawn travelers throughout 2011.

But the recent growth in Chesterfield also stems from burgeoning sports tourism. New fields built by SportsQuest and Richmond Kickers, a nonprofit soccer club, are drawing sports tourists, notably families whose children are on travel teams, Berry said.

While people under economic pressure do without other kinds of travel – European vacations, for example – they continue making trips so their kids can compete, he said. Travel team tourism, he said, is “recession proof.”

In response to the growth, the county for the first time is hiring a tourism manager, who will work within the economic development department, according to Will Davis, director of economic development for Chesterfield. “We’re feeling the impact of sports tourism,” Davis said. “We’re seeing an opportunity.”

In the last two years, sports facilities have expanded throughout Chesterfield. Ukrop Park, home to the Richmond Kickers, opened in the summer of 2009, and its seven fields are now used for mostly amateur but also professional practice and competitions.

The park has hosted state cup championships for youth, high school and amateur adult teams, drawing players from elsewhere in Virginia to the county. “My dream is to have a stadium for professional games and high-level exhibition games,” said Leigh Cowlishaw, director of soccer for the Kickers.

In the meantime, an aquatic center, on schedule to open next year, “should hopefully draw teams from all along the East Coast,” Cowlishaw said.

SportsQuest has finished 12 turf fields on its east campus on Genito Road. The turf has been used for local, regional and national competitions in field hockey, lacrosse and soccer, according to Steve Burton, founder and CEO of the private company.

The “larger scope” events that SportsQuest has been able to host “have two benefits – you get people staying in hotel rooms and you get the pleasure of measuring yourself against new competitors,” Burton said. In 2011, people involved in SportsQuest events booked some 14,000 hotel rooms in the Richmond region, according to Burton. He said the figure was obtained from hospitality services contracted by SportsQuest to help athletes and their families with travel arrangements.

SportsQuest has also been plagued by delays and financial troubles, including legal suits filed by contractors and suppliers. And Chesterfield’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission recently asked Burton to give a presentation on the status of SportsQuest projects, because construction on its east and west campuses appeared to have stalled.

According to Burton, its west campus on Genito Road is moving forward with the backing of an unnamed local developer. The campus is expected to include sports, aquatics and fitness centers.

Tourism spending in the Richmond region in 2010

Tourism dollars 2010 Growth Number of hotel rooms
Chesterfield $363,040,000 +8.6% 3,722
Hanover $179,170,000 +7.8% 764
Henrico $646,590,000 +7.1% 9,021
New Kent $27,390,000 +4.0% n/a
Richmond $538,670,000 +8.9% 3,356
Williamsburg $458,710,000 +5.0% 9,800

Source: Greater Richmond Convention and Visitors Bureau

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