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Big Sky brings big benefits -- to a few businesses


Economic boost from tournament is spread unevenly across city

Talking to Jim Barrett of Red Lodge, Mont., you’d think the Big Sky Tournament at Lincoln Park this past weekend was a resounding economic success for Forest Grove.by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Chamber volunteer Ray Giansante was one of several dedicated folks who staffed an information table at the Big Sky meet, along with Chamber Director Howard Sullivan and his wife LaDonna, Mayor Pete Truax and Jeff King, the citys economic development manager. They had loads of good information on local restaurants but few visitors, which may partially account for the uneven economic benefits. The conference was great for Best Western, said Pizza Schmizza owner Ron Bednar, but as far as my weekly totals, you couldnt even see it.

Thirteen college track and field teams came from nine different states for the Portland State University-hosted meet, and out-of-state license plates lined Main Street near the stadium from Wednesday through Saturday.

Barrett and his 90-year-old dad came to watch Barrett’s daughter compete in the heptathalon Wednesday and Thursday.

They stayed at the Best Western University Inn and spoke so highly of the city and their close proximity to the stadium that Barrett’s ex-wife and her boyfriend — also in from out of town — switched their lodging from Portland to Forest Grove.

The whole crew, along with Barrett’s son, ate at the Grand Lodge one night, the Mandarin Chinese restaurant another, and were planning on more local dining before they left. Barrett and his son also had a beer at Jordy’s and praised Forest Grove as “a beautiful little town.”

But according to Pizza Schmizza owner Ron Bednar, the impact was “very, very little, almost nothing.” Bednar estimates he took in maybe $200 more than usual for the week. “That’s not 5 percent of my business.”

Bednar said most of the actual teams stayed in Hillsboro and Beaverton: “I only know of one team that stayed in Forest Grove.”

Jordy’s owner Tyson Saunders said he saw some new faces and out-of-state college T-shirts, but most of the impact was Saturday morning, with scattered tournament visitors Wednesday through Friday.

Representatives for Izgara and Grendel’s said Friday and Saturday were pretty quiet.

Perhaps that was because everyone went to Maggie’s Buns.

“It was great,” said owner Maggie Pike. “We were swamped all Friday and Saturday. Lots more business.”

Even Wednesday and Thursday, “there was a buzz,” Pike said.

That matches anecdotal evidence from visitors such as Lee Castonguay and his wife (up from Sacramento), who had lunch at Maggie’s Buns Wednesday and planned to go back for breakfast. “It was excellent. It had great variety,” Castonguay said.

Derek Marsh and his son Todd, of Rapelje, Mont., also ate at Maggie’s. “I like the atmosphere,” said Derek, who stayed at the Best Western in Forest Grove. Todd said he had to stay in Portland because Forest Grove lodging was full.

Even Saunders sent some tournament coffee customers to Maggie’s when they asked about breakfast.

Business was also brisk at McMenamin’s Grand Lodge, according to Assistant Manager Brian Bellinger. Except for a few last-minute cancellations, the hotel was fully booked Friday and Saturday and the restaurant also saw tournament-related business. The beautiful weather probably also was a factor, Bellinger said.

Beth Connell of Portland State Athletics said 1,090 tournament tickets were sold over Friday and Saturday, but noted that number doesn’t include all the coaches, volunteers, staff and faculty who attended. Nor does it separate out Friday and Saturday tickets bought by the same person.

At the tournament, several dedicated Forest Grove/Cornelius Chamber of Commerce representatives staffed a table filled with brochures, maps, menus and business cards from local establishments, hoping people would stop by for information.

But not that many of the thousand-plus visitors actually approached the Chamber’s table — not more than 25 on Saturday, the busiest day of the meet, said Chamber Director Howard Sullivan.

Derek and Todd Marsh, the Rapelje visitors, said they noticed the table as they walked past but didn’t know what it was for.

They and other visitors seemed to make their way down to Main Street or along Pacific Avenue on their own.

If nothing else, the tournament gave the city great exposure, even for Portland-area visitors, Sullivan said, recalling a Gresham man who mused lightheartedly about moving to Forest Grove, which was the same distance to his Portland workplace, Sullivan said. “He just liked the ambience of our community — that it still had kind of a small-town feel to it.”

Dreams mostly come true at Lincoln Park

In 2006, Forest Grove and Pacific University officials partnered to revamp the city's Lincoln Park. They envisioned a topnotch athletic facility that would attract more students to the university, and more users — and user fees — for the city, as well as more tournaments, with all their potential customers for local businesses.

Eight years later, much of that is coming true.

The year before the new Lincoln Park and its turf field opened, "our revenue in the parks department was right around $8,000 a year," said Tom Gamble, director of the city's Parks and Recreation Department.

"This year we're going to budget about $40,000."

The turf field hourly rental rate is now $45.85 per hour for in-city users, $91.50 for out-of-city and $40.60 per hour for lights. And it's in constant, year-round demand. "Seven days a week, morning to night, all seasons," Gamble said.

The user fees go into the city's general fund, Gamble said, which is where his department gets its money.

In addition, more tournaments are coming to Forest Grove, as hoped.

Back when officials were considering their Lincoln Park partnership, Pacific hosted only one — a three-day, high-school volleyball tournament. While that tournament dropped off Pacific's schedule for the first time this year, new events have appeared: Timbers exhibition games, a high school track-and-field tournament.

Pacific rented its facilities to Portland State University in order to host the recent Big Sky track and field meet at Lincoln Park. The park's track is one of only two NCAA championship-size, Olympic-configured tracks in the state (Hayward Field in Eugene is the other) and is the only one with nine lanes.

Big Sky business varied from restaurant to restaurant, but large or small, "we always see the benefit one way or another from the athletic events going on down the street," said Jordy's owner Tyson Saunders.

And another chance is just around the corner.

Coming up Memorial Day weekend (and also the July 6-7 weekend) is a baseball tournament, when 30 to 40 teams and their accompanying fans will descend on Hillsboro and Forest Grove. And the third week in July is the state junior baseball tournament.