Could sports tourism catch on in Hickory?

The city of Hickory thinks so. Starting July 1, the city will be changing its Parks and Recreation Department to Recreation and Sports Tourism Department.

They’ve also selected the man to lead the project -- Hickory Crawdads General Manager Mark Seaman. 

Seaman will start in the role on June 17. Seaman will earn $105,000,  Hickory Communications Specialist Sarah Killian said. Mack McLeod, who recently retired as parks director after 37 years with the city, earned nearly $96,600 a year. 

And last week, the Hickory City Council heard from an executive in the sports tourism field who believes the sector is a good fit for the city.

New facilities and more resources

Hill Carrow, the CEO of Cary-based Sports & Properties Inc., appeared before the council on June 4 to give his firm’s analysis and recommendations.

Carrow conducted an analysis of the potential for sports tourism in Hickory by, among other things, looking at the overall sports tourism market, comparing Hickory to other cities, visits to existing sports facilities in Hickory and talks with community leaders.

He said there is great potential for sports tourism in the city, noting a “good base of venues and solid demographics for attracting and supporting sports tourism” in his presentation.

Carrow gave recommendations, ranging from short-term to long-term goals the city should pursue to maximize sports tourism.

Carrow's recommendations included creating a staff to recruit people to the city for sports tourism activities and adding a rowing course and paddling center as a sports destination.

In the long term -- five years or more from now -- he said the city should add two large sports facilities: a multipurpose building that could host indoor sports from basketball to wresting and a complex of eight sports fields that could host sports like baseball and soccer.

Other goals included expanding the soccer fields at Henry Fork Park, converting fields to artificial turf and finding a recreation-related use for 200 acres of city-owned land off River Road.

The city has previously discussed donating some of the River Road property for a state park project.

“The city has a number of potential options on the River Road property, a state park and what Mr. Carrow presented being two of them,” Killian said. “Time will tell what the city council does.”

Level playing field

The council did not take any action on the report, but Councilman David Williams did have some questions for Carrow.

Williams asked Carrow how familiar he was with Hickory. Carrow said he has been to the city before, but that he did not have an in-depth knowledge of the area prior to doing the study.

Then Williams asked about the process of gaining input from the community and if he had spoken with leaders of the city’s minority communities.

Carrow said he had. City Manager Warren Wood said he could provide a list of who Carrow spoke to for the study.

After the meeting, Williams said he asked the questions because he was interested in having “a level playing field.”

“I was just interested to know if he … approached any … minority leaders and if so, who were they?” Williams said. “And who was it that gave him this list and who do they consider to be important leaders of the minority community, because this is something I knew nothing about.”

A list provided by the city did not list specific individuals but shows 17 organizations the firm consulted for the study.

These included sports-related business or organizations, including the Hickory Crawdads, Hickory Metro Sports Commission and the athletic departments of Lenoir-Rhyne University, Catawba Valley Community College, Catawba County Schools, Hickory High School and St. Stephens High School.

The city manager’s office, Hickory Parks and Recreation Department, Hickory Metro Convention Center & Visitors Bureau, Catawba County Economic Development Corporation, Hickory Furniture Mart and Moretz Marketing were also among the organizations on the list.

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Kevin Griffin is the City of Hickory reporter at the Hickory Daily Record.

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