Though the pandemic will reduce the positive economic impact of the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament in Harrisonburg, it will still benefit the area, according to local economic development experts.
“Even if it’s not the largest crowd, it will be more [people] and hopefully will help our revenues,” said Brian Shull, economic development director for the city.
On Wednesday morning, the CAA announced the tournament will be held in Harrisonburg for the first time in 37 years at the new Atlantic Union Bank Center on James Madison University’s campus from March 6-9. The last time the tournament was held at a college campus was in 1986.
The event will bring 10 teams, media and others involved in conference basketball to the city. Attendance for games at the 8,500-seat center is limited to 200, like similar spaces across the state, by emergency law. It’s unclear whether those rules will still be in effect by the time the tournament rolls around.
Yet, any influx of people in the city is helpful for businesses, such as those in hospitality and restaurants, which have been hardest hit by the economic fallout from the pandemic, according to Shull.
Revenue the city generated from the meals and transient occupancy taxes took a nosedive as the pandemic spread and businesses shut down.
The first case was identified in a city resident in mid-March, and Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency on March 12, closed schools on March 16 and issued a stay-at-home order on March 30.
Between February and April, combined revenue from the two taxes the city received each month dropped from $1.32 million to $938,307, dropping further in May before starting a slow upward trend, according to data provided by city spokesman Michael Parks.
The time frame of the tournament is also positive since March is typically a slower time of the year for restaurants and hotels, according to Frank Tamberrino, president and CEO of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce.
“March is a great time for a tournament, too, because you’re between school getting back in January and the graduations in April and May,” he said.
The teams will also need catered meals from local eateries as they remain isolated from the public.
The announcement is another piece of hope for area businesses because they rely heavily on a cycle based on area college activity, which has been seriously disrupted by the pandemic, according to Tamberrino.
Tamberrino said that if vaccination rates continue to increase and cases, hospitalizations and deaths decrease, Northam could increase the capacity at events such as the March tournament.
Beyond business, the tournament coming to Harrisonburg is also about highlighting the school, city and community, according to Shull and Tamberrino.
Showing all the city has to offer for hospitality increases the chances the CAA could decide to again nestle into the Valley and JMU’s arena in the future, according to Tamberrino.
And if the tournament were to return after the pandemic and all 8,500 seats could be filled, that would result in busy hotels, packed restaurants and another chance for the city to put itself on the map, Tamberrino said.
“We want to help make this go off without a hitch and have a chance for all the teams to experience this beautiful facility, and hopefully it will lead to great things in the future,” Shull said.