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ACC Tournament begins today in Greensboro

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Changes in store for ACC Tournament

3-11-04

News & Record

For certain, this edition of the men's ACC Tournament, which begins today at the Greensboro Coliseum, will go down in the history books as the last with nine basketball teams vying for the title. But if prognosticators are on the mark, we'll also remember it for being one of the most competitive fields. The top teams are more evenly matched than as far back as anyone can remember. Not often does the ACC's seventh-ranked team contemplate a trip to the NCAA Regionals, but it could happen.

All the more reason for Greensboro to put its best foot forward as host to collegiate basketball's premier event. This week's show follows another successful outing here for the women's ACC tournament. More evidence the league should settle on the coliseum as home for the women's championship games. They were an unqualified hit as 11,400 fans cheered Duke on to a fifth straight title Monday.

Filling the coliseum's more than 23,000 seats never has posed a problem for the men's competition. Deep-pocket alumni already have forked out big bucks, and Internet peddlers offer last-minute ticket deals at outrageous prices. As always, a brisk scalping trade will offer costly relief to the ticketless.

Yet this tournament transitions into a new look. Virginia Tech and the University of Miami will join in the ACC family feud next year as the games head to MCI Center in Washington. When Greensboro again hosts it in 2006, Boston College will be on board. Then comes a three-year hiatus here until the current schedule plays out in 2010.

As the ACC expands into new markets, it's not too early to put in a word for Greensboro continuing as the dominant tournament home. Other than the cavernous domed facilities, the coliseum offers unequaled seating capacity. We're near the geographical center of the ACC and easily accessible. Coliseum parking usually goes smoothly, and lodging and restaurants are nearby. ACC headquarters, a Greensboro mainstay for five decades, is just down the road at Grandover.

The city could make its case even more convincing by pushing harder for a downtown ACC Hall of Fame. We're a logical choice. More ACC basketball tournament games have been played here than anywhere else. It's not too soon to explore the possibilities.

For now, the welcome mat is out. And we'd like to keep putting it out for years to come.

CITY'S SLAM DUNK

3-11-04

By MATT WILLIAMS, Staff Writer

News & Record

GREENSBORO -- A few thousand gourmet meals, a couple of hundred gifts, scores of workers and a dozen luxury suites.

Those are some of the demands of the nation's leading basketball conference to host what has become Greensboro's "Super Bowl."

During the next four days, the Greensboro Coliseum will open every inch of its complex for thousands of basketball fans. Its agreement with the Atlantic Coast Conference specifies all the required amenities for the men's basketball tournament. Those amenities entail space for university banquets, accommodations for hundreds of journalists and even gifts for the players and coaches.

The coliseum will spend almost $1 million to host the event, but officials say the dividends pay nicely for the city-owned complex and the area's economy.

The contract to host the tournament comes with myriad requirements, but it also allows the coliseum to keep money from parking, concessions and 6 percent of the ticket revenue. Last year, the coliseum collected $149,000 in parking fees and sold more than $600,000 in concessions. Once the other costs were paid, the coliseum came out ahead by about $114,000. Last year's women's tournament netted the coliseum about $6,200.

As a venue that has hosted the tournament more than any other city, improvements have always been made with an eye for their use in the building's big week. For this year's tournament, coliseum Managing Director Matt Brown rolled out a new LED display that wraps around the arena like a giant lighted ribbon, competing with newer buildings like Raleigh's RBC Center that have the system.

Even smaller things such as cup holders, replacing metal railings with glass and a new phone system are extras that Brown hopes can keep tournament officials happy. They may get their first use in March, but the improvements are there year-round for concerts, monster-truck rallies and hockey games.

Last year, the coliseum added its Pavilion to host the annual Fan Fest events. Brown said the new fabric-covered structure meant more space in the coliseum's Special Events Center could be saved for university banquets. The rest of the year, the Pavilion hosts part of the Central Carolina Fair and overflow from trade shows in the larger convention halls.

"Both of those venues serve our facility and community well independent of the tournament," Brown said. "But they are tremendous assets for the tournament."

After a turbulent period in the mid-'80s, things weren't always looking up for the Lee Street facility. The building had financial problems and a string of managers. Voters responded by turning down two proposals to add to the building's seating capacity.

But the city was in danger of losing the tournament and other events to glitzy new arenas in Charlotte and Chapel Hill. In 1990, voters approved borrowing money to add 7,000 seats and build the Special Events Center, two moves that ensured the city a spot in the tournament rotation.

For Dick Grubar, who chairs the War Memorial Commission, the coliseum's advisory board, keeping the tournament was a big reason for making the improvements in 1990.

"A lot of what they have now wouldn't have happened," Grubar said. "I think they would look at it as a worn facility."

Ensuring that his building stays on the short-list of ACC venues is a constant task for Brown. A smaller city can't match all of the features of newer arenas in Washington, D.C., and Florida, but Brown says Greensboro does have a niche.

"Everything we've done is to make sure that our venue didn't slip into that aged structure that it was pre-1990," Brown said. "When they looked at all the other structures out there, they looked at us as a tired old building."

Fourteen years later, ACC Commissioner John Swofford commends Greensboro for not resting on its laurels.

"The wonderful thing about working with this coliseum and Matt Brown's staff is that they're always finding a way to do this better," Swofford said.

After this year, the men's tournament is scheduled to return to Greensboro twice more, in 2006 and 2010. In between, the show will stop at venues that Brown calls "boutique arenas."

"The ACC's going to go there, see this gorgeous, brand new, bells and whistles, all that stuff." Brown said.

Their downside? Arenas in Washington, Tampa and Charlotte will have fewer seats to divide among the nine -- soon to be 12 -- member schools in the conference. Only Atlanta's Georgia Dome can hold more than Greensboro's 23,000 seat arena. That venue, however, might not be an imminent threat; the Southeastern Conference men's basketball tournament is playing there through 2008 and could be there through 2015.

Economic development officials said the real benefit for having the tournament is not the profit and improvements to the coliseum but the hard cash and prominence the city gains from hosting visitors from other schools and being the target of thousands of eyeballs watching the games on television.

Greensboro Convention and Visitors Bureau President Henri Fourrier puts the economic impact of the men's tournament at more than $13 million. Add in the women's tournament, and at least $17.5 million is spent in the two weeks by visitors on meals, hotel rooms and the like. Some of that comes back to the city through sales and room taxes.

Fourrier said the logistics needed to host the tournament and the publicity generated from it raises the city's stature when it comes to attracting events the rest of the year. Business owners that come for the tournament may return with their trade show or company retreat, he said.

"We are a third-tier city and this is definitely a first-tier event," Fourrier said. "It definitely helps to say that you've hosted this event more than anyone else."

Even Brown said he cares more about what an event does for the economy than it does for his building's bottom line. Even if the Coliseum didn't make any profit off the tournament, Brown said it's still worth the effort.

"Is it not the major, primary purpose of the citizens building this structure to have the opportunity to have that prestigious event?" Brown said.

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