Timing is everything. Kudos to Ryan Watley, Go Forward Pine Bluff chief executive officer, for recognizing this fact and offering wise suggestions to the Pine Bluff Civic Auditorium Complex Commission.
The commission considered Tuesday hosting the King Cotton basketball tournament at the Pine Bluff Convention Center in 2017, but voted no after hearing Watley discuss his concerns. The King Cotton Holiday Classic, a nationally-known high school basketball tournament, was held in Pine Bluff from 1982 to 1999.
Here's what Watley had to say on the issue after being invited to speak by the commission:
“The community is not ready based on the amount of amenities that we offer, the prevalent blight, the relationship between the Plaza Hotel and the Convention Center, and the need for upgrades on both of those,” Watley said in a Pine Bluff Commercial report. “And part of our mission is to make Pine Bluff a point of destination. If these conditions are present, once tourists and tournament participants arrive, they will not be impressed with the aforementioned conditions."
Watley continued, “Based on the 2017 time-line, we cannot endorse the tournament and because the Holiday Classic is one of the 27 (Go Forward) initiatives, we must separate Go Forward Pine Bluff from this proposed tournament." He added, "The King Cotton had a brand of excellence associated with it. While we recognize the importance of partnership, it must serve the best interests of the city of Pine Bluff. Having a tournament in 2017 does not allow the proposed Go Forward Pine Bluff initiatives to help facilitate the value associated with the King Cotton. We only get one shot to do this, and everything must be together from the planning, sponsorship and the city for the sustainability of the tournament.”
One shot, indeed. The commission did offer support for a tournament without the usage of the King Cotton name.
Tournament organizer Chris Norris, who did not attend the meeting but says he has permission for usage of the King Cotton name from founder Travis Creed, indicated to the newspaper that he planned to host a tournament with or without the city's blessing. Seems like he used the words "bulldoze over you" in expressing his intent to host the event in late December.
As of the deadline for this column, no contract had been signed or money paid to the PBCC for its usage. And according to The Commercial, Mayor Shirley Washington’s office and the Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce were not notified until a couple of weeks ago about Norris’ plans. It is August. And people who host quality events and who have worked with city leaders, hotels and convention centers, recognize the short timeline.
Events such as the King Cotton are popular and big draws to communities. Norris wants his tournament held. Period. Pine Bluff has more concerns. The city is not ready. Watley knows that a large influx of out-of-town guests will require adequate places to stay, good customer service in hotels and at restaurants, and a safe, secure and pleasant environment, among other considerations. If people come and have poor experiences, they will be less inclined to return. Who wants a viral social media post on Pine Bluff's blight?
Timing is everything. This town has momentum and big plans with the passage of Go Forward Pine Bluff. Hopefully, the involved parties can come to a consensus about the tournament with the best interests of Pine Bluff in mind. This isn't about who hosts a ball tournament first. It is about the greater good of a community and its future.
Bulldozers tear things down. This community needs building up. Keep that in mind when considering business partners -- and be aware of whose interests they are serving.
Shea Wilson is the former managing editor of the El Dorado News-Times. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @sheawilson7.