SIOUX CITY -- Five of the 32 teams that qualified for the 2017 NAIA Division II Women's Basketball National Championship hail from the GPAC Conference, comprised of schools in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota.
With so many fans and family of the teams within driving distance of Sioux City, local officials are bullish on the economic outlook for this year's tourney, which starts Wednesday at the Tyson Events Center.
“We are projecting about $17 million for economic impact for 2017,” said Erika Newton, executive director of Sioux City's Events & Facilities Department. “That’s based roughly on numbers we saw from 2016 economic impact, so it’s right around that number every year.
“It can change or fluctuate depending on how many local teams are in the tournament. We get a bigger attendance when more local and regional teams participate, but, overall, that’s a good projected number to use looking at ’17.”
Last year, nearly 35,000 players, coaches and spectators came through the Tyson Events Center during the tournament, which is how Newton's office calculated economic impact through a formula provided by the state.
One of the biggest beneficiaries of the tournament will be local hotels that play host to teams and supporters. Stoney Creek Hotel & Conference Center, located within walking distance of Tyson Events Center, has been preparing for its host teams.
Hotel staff draped an NAIA banner near the registration desk and plan to have plenty of healthy snacks — bananas, granola bars and yogurt — on hand for players staying there.
"Some of the students have had to travel a great distance," Stoney Creek general manager Lila Plambeck said. "It's our job to show how hospitable Sioux City can be."
Eighty percent of Stoney Creek’s 161 rooms are currently booked by players and their families.
Newton expects similar success stories from other hotels across the city during the week-long basketball extravaganza. Last year, local hotels generated 1,764 room nights during the course of the tournament.
“It’s a great opportunity for the hotels to be filled,” she said.
Chris McGowan, president of the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce, noted the tournament provides a sizable bump to the local economy.
"(It) draws 32 different teams from across the country," he said. "The teams will be spending money in our restaurants, stores, gas stations — you name it. All types of businesses seem to benefit."
While all of the financial benefits are more than welcome, Newton noted this tournament has become something more to Sioux City, which is why a large number of local stakeholders support the endeavor.
“This is the 20th year we’ve hosted it and it's just become a part of who we are in the community,” she said. “There are so many businesses and restaurants and hotels that get to know the individual teams and the community really comes out to support and sponsor different portions of the tournament and we have tons of great volunteers that dedicate their time the entire week that the teams are here. It’s really become a community event.”
Since coming to Sioux City in 1998, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics women's basketball tournament has generated nearly $300 million for the metro area, Newton said.
Corey Westra, commissioner of the Great Plains Athletic Conference and a local director of the NAIA tournament, said hosting the championship for a record two decades is a major milestone for the community.
“Twenty years was always out there as a goal for the city and the organizing committee,” he said. “That, really, to me, has made everybody a little more excited this year, not that it changes the tournament or anything like that, but it’s been a rallying point for everyone involved — it’s pretty special.”
The Journal's Early Horlyk contributed to this story.