Louisville, Kentucky: Destination Derby City
1 Mar, 2013By: Juli Anne Patty
The run for the roses. The iconic baseball bat. A boxer who floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee. Louisville, Kentucky has so many sports connections, it’s impossible to define this Southern city by any one sport. It’s close to say that Louisville is the South’s sports Shangri-La, a sacred stop for sports travelers of all varieties.
You might think that after 138 Kentucky Derbies, including a 2012 Derby that broke attendance and wagering records, Louisville would be satisfied with its sports status. But not Derby City. Louisville is a sports destination with a remarkable sports history that continues to make new sports history every day.
Even if you didn’t know about Louisville’s distinguished sports lineage, this is one city that sells itself with just the stats.
• Less than a day’s drive from more than 60 percent of the U.S. population.
• Home to the Kentucky Exposition Center, the sixth largest public facility of its kind with 1.3 million square feet of versatile and flexible space.
• Over 120 parks, including signature spaces designed by the famous urban greenspace planner Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed New York City's Central Park.
• More than 17,000 hotel rooms in every price range, including more than 3,800 rooms in historical downtown.
• The choice of more than 2,500 dining options.
• Hundreds of venues and facilities—pro, collegiate and amateur—ranging from one of America’s best cyclocross facilities to the stunning KFC Yum! Center.
• A central stop along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and a renowned Urban Bourbon Trail for the full experience without leaving Louisville.
As home to the historic racetrack Churchill Downs and in the center of America’s equestrian tradition, Louisville is a shoo-in for many horse-related events, but that is just where Louisville’s sports event experience begins. In December 2012, for the first time in the history of the tournament, the 2012 NCAA Women's Volleyball Final Four and Championship headed to the Derby City.
The University of Louisville, partnering with the Louisville Arena Authority, the Kentucky State Fair Board, the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau and Greater Louisville Sports Commission, hosted the championship at the KFC Yum! Center. A $238 million, 22,000-seat basketball and multipurpose arena, the KFC Yum! Center, situated on the Ohio River, is the home to the University of Louisville men’s and women’s basketball teams, as well as a wide range of high-profile sports events.
Louisville has landed some major upcoming events, as well. The NCAA returns to Louisville in 2013 for the first and second rounds of its Women’s Basketball Tournament at KFC Yum! Center. Also, for the first time in 60 years, the UCI Masters Cyclo-cross World Championships will be held outside of Europe, choosing Louisville as its host. The event will be held at the Eva Bandman Cyclocross Park, January 31-February 3, 2013.
“The city made a major investment in Eva Bandman Cyclocross Park, which combines scenic views of downtown Louisville and the Ohio River but also employs challenging features such as sand mounds, numerous run-ups, ‘flyovers,’ and wooded areas,” says Gathan Borden, director, brand marketing and advertising, Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"This is a huge moment for the sport of cyclocross in the United States. It's an opportunity for Louisville to really shine on the global stage and to show the world their hometown pride as they make sporting history," said Joan Hanscom, Louisville 2013 event director.
Cycling of all sorts has a big following in Louisville, with USA BMX making a big pro-Louisville decision recently. Last August, USA BMX announced that the USA BMX Nationals, previously known as the Grand Nationals, would return to Louisville through at least 2014 while also tacking on a separate winter event.
The announcement came after the 20th Bluegrass Nationals BMX Bike Competitions, which brought about 1,000 competitors from 40 states to Louisville’s E.P. "Tom" Sawyer State Park. Louisville has been the event's home since the 1980s. John David, COO of USA BMX also announced that his organization is so happy working with the city of Louisville that it plans to add a second annual event, the USA BMX Derby City Nationals, to be held at Freedom Hall, part of the Kentucky Exposition Center (KEC), beginning in February 2013.
"The KEC makes such an ideal setting for what we're planning to do," said David, "and that combined with the power of the Convention and Visitor's Bureau, and especially the success and support we get from the Louisville Sports Commission, it's a win/win all the way around."
The Nationals Sports Commission (NASC) will also make a trip to Louisville in 2013 for its NASC Sports Event Symposium. One of the industry’s key annual events, the Symposium brings together 700 sports industry professionals with host organizations and suppliers.
Horses, basketball, volleyball, cyclocross, BMX … and yes, also golf. Kentucky is famous for its bluegrass as well as its golf courses, after all. The PGA actually owns a course in Louisville, Valhalla, where it will host its 2013 Championship.
Facilities for All
Louisville might have a serious stake in horse racing, but the Eva Bandman Cyclocross facility is just one excellent example of how the city of Louisville values all sports and makes serious investments in them. Louisville Extreme Park is another example. This 40,000-square-foot park, owned by the Louisville Metro Government, provides skateboarding, in-line skating and biking opportunities for people of all ages and skill levels. The outdoor concrete skating park also includes a 24-foot full pipe, a wooden vert ramp and on-site restrooms, all located downtown near Waterfront Park and Slugger Field, making the skatepark accessible from all parts of the community by bus and car, or by self-powered means via the RiverWalk and connecting multi-use paths.
When a destination has outstanding facilities, a convenient and accessible location, affordable and plentiful hotels, transportation and dining options and a wealth of event hosting expertise, there’s really only one question left to ask: will people want to go there? In Louisville’s case, the answer is easy, and you don’t even have to take our word for it. In 2012, Louisville won a bevy of travel, food and fun awards :
• Louisville was named one of the “Best Foodie Getaways around the World” by Zagat
• Louisville was named one of the top 10 Tastiest Towns by Southern Living
• Louisville’s MEAT was named one of the World’s 50 Best Bars 2012 by Drinks International
• Bootsnall.com listed Louisville as one of the “8 of the Best American Small Towns for Foodies”
• Louisville made the list for “The 10 Best College Towns for True Foodies” on thebestcolleges.org
• Harvest was named on Food & Wine Magazine's “Best Southern Food in the U.S.” list
• Hammerheads' chef was named top 10 in the region by Food & Wine
• Holy Grale restaurant was recognized in Draft Magazine’s list of America’s 100 Best Beer Bars, and in Food & Wine’s roundup of “Best Sliders in the U.S.”
• Louisville was named one of the Top 10 Cities for Affordable Vacations by Livability.com.
GQ magazine named Louisville “the manliest town in America”
• Louisville was named in the Top 6 Summer “Mancations” by TravelChannel
• Louisville was named in “Top 25 Best American Cities for Art” by American Style Magazine
• U.S. News named Louisville one of the Top 12 Best Getaways
• ABC City Guides for Kids named Louisville one of its Top 7 Family Destinations for 2012
• The U.S. Conference of Mayors named Louisville “the nation’s most livable large city"
• Louisville made the Top 10 “Best Places to Retire Under $40,000” on Yahoo News
• Condé Nast Traveler readers voted Louisville’s 21c Museum Hotel #1 Hotel in the South
• The Brown Hotel was named to Travel + Leisure’s 2012 list of the Top 500 World’s Best Hotels.
It seems, in 2013, no matter what the activity or sport, everyone wants a chance to play in Louisville. For information about how to bring your next event to Derby City, visit www.gotolouisville.com.