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Hotel space called key to Franklin marketing success

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Sports events in Franklin generate about $1 million per year, but that number could double or triple if the city worked to promote local facilities, such as the Franklin Community High School fieldhouse or Faught Stadium and Branigin Field at Franklin College.

Franklin hosted 54 events from August 2012 through July 2013, attracting more than 41,000 visitors — and their money — to the city.

The events ranged from dance competitions at the high school performing arts center drawing 300 visitors to statewide marching band and elementary school wrestling tournaments attracting 2,500 people per day.

Studies by two researchers said that facilities at the high school, the college and local parks could host many more tournaments and competitions each year, if the city had an agency focused on bringing in new events.

The city also would need to address a significant problem — a lack of hotel space. Franklin hotels can provide fewer than 175 rooms per night, which is too few to host large events, such as a 50-team softball tournament.

The studies, completed by an Indiana University professor who specializes in sports tourism and the National Association of Sports Commissions, can be used as tools in Franklin’s ongoing efforts to attract hotels or restaurants, especially near Interstate 65 on the east side, Mayor Joe McGuinness said.

The studies were done as part of a plan the city, Franklin Community Schools, Franklin College and Johnson Memorial Hospital have been considering to form a nonprofit group that would work to attract more sports events.

If the county approves a new innkeeper’s tax funding a county visitors bureau, that group could take charge of sports marketing instead of Franklin creating its own agency.

The Franklin Development Corp. provided a $24,000 grant after getting a proposal from the four-member group to study the economic impact of youth sports. After the first study showed a more than $1 million impact from sports, the group brought in the National Association of Sports Commissions to do a second study analyzing the current facilities and how to attract more events to the city.

Local facilities, especially those at the high school, put the city in a good position to compete for new events, the report from the association said.

“We found several of your facilities to be among the best we have seen anywhere in the country,” the report said.

For example, the fieldhouse at the high school has four courts, flexible dividers between courts, air conditioning and pull-out bleachers, which make it a good option for hosting large events such as wrestling, volleyball or basketball tournaments, the report said. The staff who visited the school said the building is the largest and most flexible fieldhouse they’ve seen at a high school.

The school also received high praise for its pool and cross-country course, which are both large enough to host statewide or national competitions, Franklin Superintendent David Clendening said.

All of those facilities already are being used for some events, including a new national youth gymnastics competition that the high school is hosting this year, he said.

“It just shows that the unintentional has happened, and it has had a positive impact. We’ve not been intentional with promoting and getting sports events to our facilities. With a little focus, we can definitely see a rise in that economic impact,” Clendening said.

For example, in May, about 1,200 people attended a dance competition at the high school, and visitors spent about $52 per person per day, according to the economic impact study by Indiana University professor Bruce Jaffee. About 42 percent of that spending went to overnight lodging, with another 28 percent spent on food, according to his report.

Lodging accounts for the biggest spending by visitors, but Franklin is severely hampered by its lack of hotel space, both reports said. Franklin has the facilities to host an event that can draw more than 1,000 people, but those visitors have to stay in Greenwood, Indianapolis or Taylorsville, where larger hotels are located.

The city not only needs more rooms but higher quality lodging as well. The highest rating for a hotel in Franklin on one hotel website is equal to the lowest rating of hotels north or south of the city, Jaffee said.

Franklin already is focused on attracting new development to its I-65 exit as part of a new 10-year plan, especially a large hotel such as a Holiday Inn Express or Hilton Garden Inn, McGuinness said.

The city wants to contact franchisers hotels or restaurant chains but needs more information to share that will entice them to consider Franklin.

The city is working on a traffic study to get numbers on how many vehicles come off the interstate and can use the data from the youth sports studies to show there is a reliable stream of people who need overnight lodging, McGuinness said.

Promoting youth sports spurs new economic development. The money spent by visitors goes into small businesses, such as local shops or restaurants, and more events could lead to growth of those businesses, McGuinness said.

Sports events are being pursued by several areas in central Indiana, including Columbus and the new Grand Park sports complex in Westfield, but McGuinness isn’t concerned about a shortage of events.

Some traveling sports teams play in a different tournament every weekend and regularly look for new events in new areas with different competition.

“It’s crazy the amount of money that is spent on those type of events by parents and grandparents. There’s an opportunity for us to grab a small piece of that very large pie,” McGuinness said.

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