City, county and school officials in Horry County met last week to encourage the school district to re-examine the ball field rental fees it charges teams – a move at least one official hopes will keep sports tourism thriving along the Grand Strand.
Joe DeFeo, Horry County Board of Education president, and a host of other school officials met with Myrtle Beach City Manager Tom Leath, a city official from North Myrtle Beach and a representative from the county to talk about how the school system can maintain its baseball and softball fields without having to charge its current rates. Currently, the schools charge about $250 per hour for a baseball field, whereas the city of Myrtle Beach charges $150 per day.
“I think everybody was always on the same page, we just needed to get together and realize we were on the same page,” DeFeo said of last week’s meeting. “The goal is to have a fee schedule that gives the Horry County School District a reasonable chance at maintaining the quality of its sports facilities, but at the same time attracting as much sports tourism as we can to Horry County.”
Leath said he felt the meeting went well.
“We had a good discussion about rates and the school district indicated to us that they were going to look at their rate schedule and try to come up with a rate that was reasonable,” Leath said. “I got a good feeling from the discussion... that they understand what’s at stake here.”
The area has already experienced losing some tournaments because of high rates.
John Casale of Triple Crown Summer Nationals – an annual baseball tournament hosted in Myrtle Beach – has been through the price increase for ball fields before.
In fact, four years ago he yanked three age groups ranging from 16 to 18 year olds, and totaling between 75 and 100 teams, from Myrtle Beach to Richmond, Va.
“Even now, as you and I speak, the facilities in Myrtle Beach is among the top two and may even be the top spot with the highest fees,” Casale said.
The tournament, now in its 11th year, runs for two weeks in July, right at the Grand Strand’s peak tourist season. The 264 teams that play in the tournament are scheduled in four time slots – 8 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. Casale said the thought is to get everyone off the fields by 6 p.m. so they can go out and enjoy Myrtle Beach. Currently, Triple Crown pays $800 per day for the use of ball fields. Under the more aggressive fee schedule, that would leap to $2,000 daily.
If anyone knows there are other cities who want these tournaments in their neck of the woods, it’s Casale.
“There’s plenty of cities that are looking for this type of sports economic impact,” Casale said. He said community leaders have become more educated on the impact and sustainability of sports tourism in poor economic times.
DeFeo said the school board is very aware of the economic impact of sports tourism in the area, and said the new schedule will likely include an all-day fee to rent sports facilities owned by the district.
“Our primary objective is educating children, but when we have a better economy, it makes our job easier,” he said.
Leath said the school system will look and compare the field charges from area cities, the county and itself.
“These rates haven’t been reviewed in a long time,” he said. “I think that they met in good faith... We expect that in a couple of weeks we will hear from them.”
Casale said Triple Crown has every intent to work with the area to keep the tournaments in Myrtle Beach.
“If this comes to pass again, there’s a very strong likelihood that that could be another choice,” he said. “In the end, we’ll examine everything.”
Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or follow him at Twitter.com/TSN_jrodriguez.