Adding Up the Score in Greenville, South Carolina
1 Jul, 2014By: Peter Francesconi
It’s fairly easy for a location to build a great sports venue—a phenomenal softball complex, a well-maintained soccer facility or a state-of-the-art aquatics center. It’s harder to combine terrific facilities with a five-star team of sports and tourism professionals and enthusiastic community support groups who go out of their way to make sports events the best they can be.
Greenville takes the trophy when it comes to creating the ultimate all-around experience for everyone. Whether it’s their award-winning downtown, countless things to do, range of accommodations and restaurants, outstanding value, striking natural and urban surroundings or simply their Southern charm, this fast-growing community is seeing more and more sporting events choosing Greenville as their host destination.
A Growing Sports Destination
The Greenville County community, population around 467,000, is nestled among the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the upstate region of South Carolina. Named the “Second Best Town Ever” by Outside Magazine, Greenville four-season climate lends itself to multiple recreational opportunities. When not on the field, athletes can enjoy walking, cycling and hiking trails and (bicycles, kayaks and canoes can be rented locally).
For tournament owners and organizers, Greenville is a dynamic destination offering first-class sports facilities and that personal touch. Athletes and sports events are prized and celebrated. Friends and family members who come along also are treated to warm welcomes and downhome Southern hospitality.
Greenville has become a top destination in the Southeast for major regional, national and international sporting events. While Greenville County has invested significantly in sports tourism and its facilities – pumping $40 million into new park construction and facility upgrades since 2007, it is also centrally located, right on I-85 between Atlanta, GA and Charlotte, NC and up I-26 from Columbia, SC. Air travel is equally easy thanks to the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (GSP), which is served by six major carriers offering more than 53 direct daily flights. In addition, Greenville was named “America’s 5th Most Fun, Affordable City” by Bloomberg Businessweek.
The city’s success with sports venues can be traced back to 2006 when the Greenville County Council approved the Tourism Recreation and Athletics Coalition (TRAC) plan, a two percent tax on prepared food and beverages in unincorporated areas. Among the recipients of that money was Greenville County Parks, Recreation & Tourism. “We had a list of 20 parks to be renovated or newly constructed with that money, including several unique facilities,” says Jeff Poole, Greenville County’s Sports Tourism Manager. “All the construction was completed by 2012 and now we’ve moved on to marketing and promoting those facilities.”
‘Anchor’ Sports Facilities
One of Greenville’s core facilities is the Westside Aquatic Complex (WAC), which was completely reconstructed in 2011 and is one of the most progressive and state-of-the-art swim facilities in the country. The primary competition pool features eight lanes x 50 meters, which can easily be converted to 20 lanes x 25 yards by moving the bulkhead. A second pool boasts five lanes x 25 yards, and serves as a warm-up and cool-down pool for athletes, with locker rooms and concession space.
One of the WAC’s benchmark features is the Paddock chloramine evacuation system that maintains air quality within the facility. Retractable overhead doors also keep air flowing. Wave-refracting gutters and lane lines and a consistent depth of six to seven feet make WAC an extremely fast course for swimmers.
“The Aquatic Complex is one of Greenville’s anchors and is very capable of hosting large meets,” Poole says. Recently, WAC has hosted events such as the South Carolina State Short Course Championships and the USA Swimming Southern Zone Age Group Championships.
Another premier facility is the 60-acre MeSA Soccer Complex, which has 16 lighted natural grass fields and is home to the Carolina Elite Soccer Academy (CESA). The complex also has two permanent buildings with bathrooms and concessions, and two playgrounds. With nearly 1,200 paved parking spaces, Wi-Fi throughout, a PA system, and staff on site, MeSA is tournament-ready.
“MeSA is a rare find for a soccer complex,” Poole says, “and it’s one of the most unique facilities in Greenville County and the entire Southeast.” This summer, a number of major events are on the schedule for MeSA, including the US Youth Soccer National President’s Cup. Past events have included the US Youth Soccer Region III Championships, with more than 10,000 athletes and spectators from 12 states. In addition to soccer, MeSA has hosted lacrosse and Ultimate events.
A third key sports facility is Conestee Park, a baseball complex that can hold up to 8,000 spectators. The stadium field is the former home of the Greenville Braves minor league team. The county has renovated the stadium and added a cluster of four other diamonds (creating a total of five), including three full-size high school/college fields. Because the baseball fields are adjacent to a 400-acre nature preserve, there are miles of trails in the area. Other amenities include an event pavilion with seating for 200, restrooms, grills, a play area and plenty of parking.
Indoor sporting events also can find a home in Greenville. The Bon Secours Wellness Arena, which seats 15,000, can be configured to accommodate a variety of sports events, including hockey, wrestling, gymnastics and cheer. The TD Convention Center features two exhibit halls with 280,000 square feet of space for a number of indoor sports and can accommodate up to 25,000 people.
“We have a lot of mat sports coming here,” says Robin Wright, Senior Sales Manager of Sports for VisitGreenvilleSC. “Greenville and the local karate club have a nice history with hosting successful USA Karate events, including serving as host to the 2010, 2013 and 2014 National Championship and US Team Trials.”
Cycling and running events also are big in Greenville. “The community recently hosted the 2013 UCI Para-cycling Open and has a seven-year history of hosting the USA Pro Cycling Championships (2006-2012). In addition, Greenville will be the host site for the USA Cycling 2015 Professional Criterium National Championships in 2015,” adds Wright. Additionally, Greenville was voted “Fifth Best U.S. Cycling Town” by USA TODAY and named a “Best Small City for Cycling” by Bicycling Magazine.
There also are plenty of other sports facilities in and around Greenville. The Wenwood Soccer Complex offers six full-size fields (five with lights), concession stand and restrooms. Northwest Park has five baseball/softball fields and two rectangular fields and Pittman Park features five full-size rectangular fields, concessions, restrooms and a playground.
Prime facilities are available in nearby towns as well, including Corey Burns Park and David Jackson Park, both in Taylors, South Carolina, each offering five baseball fields. The 66,000-square-foot Pavilion Recreation Complex, also in Taylors, has three rectangular athletic fields, tennis courts and more. The Piedmont Athletic Complex has three fields, and Lakeside Park, also in Piedmont, offers four baseball/softball diamonds.
In nearby Spartanburg, Tyger River Park is a first-class baseball/softball complex with 13 diamonds, including a championship stadium field. Set to open in September is the 60-acre Upward Sports Complex with a 120,000 square-foot multi-sport indoor facility and a multitude of outdoor fields.
“Greenville also has the terrific sports facilities at Furman University,” notes Wright. “Lacrosse has been a growing sport in the Southeast, and Furman has a great lacrosse facility.”
Greenville currently has about 8,500 hotel rooms, plenty to accommodate all types of groups. In addition, says Wright, six new hotels are currently being built. “This is such a great up-and-coming community,” she adds.
However, it’s the community’s enthusiasm for sports that gives Greenville one of its biggest boosts when it comes to attracting events. “I’ve learned that having a community that offers a lot of support, and working with all types of groups and organizations, is essential,” says Wright.
“Greenville really has community support down. The facilities here are excellent and well-maintained, which benefits both the residents and tournament organizers looking to bring events here. And everyone has really jumped on board as a team to help make sports here the best they can be. Sports organizers want to see that partnership in a community.”