Bluegrass Country Is Looking at NCAA Finals as a Bonanza for Local Economy

Associated Press

Basketball will take a backseat to commerce for many people in the Kentucky Bluegrass when the sport crowns a new collegiate champion here next month.

During the 4 1/2 days of the Final Four, there will be 22,000 people to squire around and entertain, 297,000 meals to prepare and serve, 40,000 game programs to sell and 35,000 souvenir cups of soft drinks to peddle.

Managers at Rupp Arena, site of this year's Final Four, expect the fans to gobble up 15,000 hot dogs, 27,500 ice cream cones and 7,000 boxes of popcorn during the semifinals and finals.

The food is small potatoes, though.

Tournament organizers hope the event will pour as much as $15 million into the local economy, and they believe it will pay dividends in tourism, conventions and economic development for years to come.

"This is extremely important to the community. We certainly want to put our best foot forward," said Tom Minter, president of the company that runs Rupp Arena. "We want to show . . . that a community capable of hosting the Final Four is capable of hosting a whole lot of organized activities."

The business community that built a hotel partly to secure Lexington's tournament bid has donated $450,000. Donors of large amounts were rewarded with prime seats for the semifinal and championship games March 31 and April 1.

The University of Kentucky received more than 130,000 applications last spring for the 6,600 tickets that went on public sale. Nearly 3,000 locals, shut out of the games, have volunteered to drive, guide and otherwise assist the basketball visitors.

Jim Smither, executive director of the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau, estimates that each visitor will stay 4 1/2-5 days and spend at least $100 per day for hotel rooms, meals, souvenirs, tours and drinks.

"Everybody in the community will touch some of that money," Smither said. "The beauty of that money is that it's earned in other communities and spent here. We're not going to build any schools for those people, or streets or sewers. We're not going to have to spend it on welfare or unemployment. All we have to do is receive it, say thank you, be nice and hospitable and look forward to getting them back here again."

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