Pine Bluff Convention Center Executice Director Bob Purvis expects this week’s four-day high school basketball tournament to boost the local economy, particularly with regard to spending at restaurants.
The 4A Region 8 conference basketball tournament kicked off at 4 p.m. Wednesday between the Dollarway Lady Cardinals and the Crossett Lady Eagles. The championship will be held Saturday. Boys and girls teams from eight southeast Arkansas schools are competing. The schools are DeWitt, Crossett, Hamburg, Dollarway, Dumas, Warren, Star City and Monticello.
Convention Center workers won’t know how many people attended until the tournament is over and they count tickets, Purvis said. He predicted the out-of-town schools would bring fan followings of at least 300 to 400 people.
Since most of the teams are within driving distance, Purvis does not expect many travelers to book hotel rooms for overnight stays. But many will probably stop at fast food joints to eat, he said. Those stops usually translate into an economic impact of about $15-$20 per person.
High school basketball tournaments are often lucrative for host cities due to the strong following teams enjoy in rural communities.
“One thing you like about small towns, they roll up the sidewalks and everybody goes to the basketball tournaments,” Purvis said. “I’ve thought, ‘If I was going to steal something from that little town, today would be it.’ Because a lot of times the sheriff comes [to the tournament, too]!”
Purvis, who plans to retire March 1 after 18 years overseeing the convention center, also called the tournament a chance to showcase Pine Bluff’s hospitality in a bid for future events. That’s particularly true for statewide tournaments, when fans from Jonesboro, Fayetteville and elsewhere flood local hotels.
“What we have to do here in our building, is we go out of the way to make sure the parents and the kids have a good experience,” Purvis said. “If they can go back and say, ‘My kids had a good experience’ there, they’ll come back.”
That means convention center staff putting in extra work to get the facility in good shape. Hospitality details such as making sure the floors are in good condition, the scoreboard works right and bathrooms are clean go a long way, he said.
“We try to do better than anyone on hospitality,” Purvis said. “Somebody has an issue, we’ll try to figure it out.”