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Conference USA tournament brings big business downtown

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Reported by: Ian Silver
Updated: 3/14/2013 9:11 am Published: 3/13/2013 8:34 pm

The City of Tulsa has played host to a string of major sporting events over the past few years, each of which has brought more money and more businesses to the downtown area.

Events like the NCAA basketball tournament two years ago, the Bassmaster Classic a few weeks ago, and the Conference USA basketball tournament, which kicked off Wednesday, have brought thousands of people to downtown Tulsa.

"For this tournament we're expecting between 20,000 and 25,000 people throughout the four days," Jessie Boudiette, General Manager of the Tulsa Sports Commission, said.

And those figures are nothing compared to another recent event.

"The Bassmaster Classic a few weeks ago had about 106,000 people, and had about a $30 million economic impact on the greater area," Boudiette said.

Because all of those people need places to stay, eat and shop, more and more Tulsans are cashing in.

"The Brady District with Guthrie Green, restaurants are popping up there, a new hotel being built," Boudiette said. "The Blue Dome [District] continues to do great."

One of those new restaurants is The Rusty Crane in the Brady Arts District, which opened in October.

"It's extraordinary," Lee Brannan, owner of The Rusty Crane, said. "I think it's very exciting to watch."

As good as his business has been on a normal week, when there are big events in town it's even greater.

"It's simple math," Brannan said. "You know, more people come downtown, the more people are going to walk in your door."

And the boost isn't only coming from the really big events like the CUSA tournament and the Bassmasters.

"The concerts all help a great deal," he said. "The Guthrie Green, we got to benefit a little bit from that last year. We know that the Drillers, when they start playing over at ONEOK Field, are going to be great for business as well."

Starting Wednesday night Brannan planned to have all hands on deck to serve not only locals, but hopefully plenty of tourists, as well.

"[We're] doing our best to keep up," he said. "We are definitely, with St. Patrick's Day coming this weekend as well, expecting a very full house."

But older downtown Tulsa businesses are also cashing in on the big events that bring thousands to the area.

The Doubletree Hotel has been at the same location downtown for decades. But the last few years have brought new life to the hotel.

"Anything that happens in the downtown area is great for us," Bruce Sneller, General Manager for the Doubletree, said.

The CUSA tournament has been no different.

"It has been a great boon for business, especially following Bassmasters," Sneller said. "But the hotel is sold out starting tonight through Sunday."

Sneller says with all the growth and activity developing downtown over the past few years, it's not just tourists hanging out around the hotel.

"We see a lot of individuals coming now and hanging out in our lounge," Sneller said. "Just a lot more activity from a local set, more than just business travelers."

So to keep everyone coming and spending money, the hotel's owners decided to open up a restaurant called Made Market.

"[Made Market] was a little bit over a $2 million investment," he said. "We've spent a little over a million on the tower with guest rooms. Those things never would have happened had the owners not seen what's happening downtown and see a return on their investment."

In addition to the thousands of visitors expected for the CUSA tournament this week, Boudiette says it's also up to local residents to keep the downtown momentum going.

"The better job we do showing up for this event, the better chance we have of getting more like it and even bigger ones down the road," he said.

The CUSA tournament is expected to have a total estimated economic impact of roughly $3 million.

Last year, the Tulsa Sports Commission hosted 13 major events, which brought more than 40,000 people to town and had an economic impact of nearly $57 million.

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The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of KOKI FOX23 - Tulsa

Mayor Maynot - 3/14/2013 2:56 PM
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Just raise the nets on any tennis court repaint the lines and it's volleyball !.!
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