One of the marquee tourist attractions in Jonesboro is a series of baseball tournaments held throughout the spring and summer. A major problem has been rain-bogged fields. A solution would be to replace the infields with turf, a $1.1 million project. Jonesboro A&P commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to dedicate $425,000 towards the project during the next five years.
The city of Jonesboro will dole a similar amount towards the project, A&P Commission Chairman Jerry Morgan said. The remainder will be raised through private fundraisers and donations. The turf project could be completed before the spring tournament season begins in March. The city will pay for the entire project upfront, and the A&P will pay $85,000 per year until its portion is paid off.
The commission tentatively agreed to give the city’s baseball program $50,000 to be used for advertising and other costs tied to the tournament season. Jonesboro hosts more than 30 youth baseball and softball tournaments in the spring and early summer, according to the city. These tournaments can draw as many as 40,000 people to the city during these months.
A&P commissioners decided to spend about $700,000 on tourism-related projects in 2018, an 11.1% increase as compared to the amount spent in 2017. At least 30 organizations made pitches before the committee Wednesday. Morgan said before the pitches were made, the committee was going to do a more thorough job of determining what projects, festivals, events, and others are beneficial to the city’s hotel tax coffers. Some of these events need to become self-sustaining so that the A&P can divert money to new projects to spur the tourism economy in the region even further, he said.
“If it (an event) doesn’t show an increase year after year, we’re going to have to adjust what we’re doing,” he said.
The Downtown Barbeque Festival ($100,000), the Red Wolf Foundation ($100,000), and the city baseball programs ($131,000) received the largest financial backing from the A&P in 2017.
A three-year agreement with the Red Wolf Foundation will expire at the end of the year. Arkansas State University Athletic Director Terry Mohajir told commissioners the money is used to promote football and other athletic events. The last several years, ASU has had six home games, as opposed to five, he said.
One game can have a dramatic impact on the local economy. ASU home games generate $1.285 million in out-of-town tourist economic activity per game, according to a study conducted by ASU. Most road opponents ask for 4,000 tickets for fans, but more nationally recognized programs ask for upwards of 10,000. If 10,000 tickets are sold, the tourism economic impacts balloon to $4.251 million. The study didn’t tabulate spending by fans that live in the city correlating to the game or include tailgating.
A scheduled game with the University of Miami was cancelled due to Hurricane Irma earlier this season and the city has endured a significant economic impact. The city collected $1.396 million in city sales and use taxes last month, a 5.42% drop ($80,044) from the same month in 2016. To date, the city has reeled in $13.363 million in city sales and use taxes this year, a 2.16% ($282,328) increase from last year. Craighead County suffered a similar decline in September. The county took in $1.555 million in sales and use taxes last month, a 7.8% drop from the same month in 2016.
Mohajir said there has also been talk about ASU potentially moving one or more of its games to War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. There are no imminent plans to do that and his intent is to make sure six games are played in Jonesboro each year, he said.
Commissioners voted to renew the three-year deal, contingent on six home games in Jonesboro being scheduled and the use of city logos on promotional advertisements.
If projections hold, the A&P will have $303,855 in its coffers by the end of the year.