The central Kenai Peninsula will play host to basketball fans from across the Southcentral region beginning today as teams from 10 high schools converge on the area for the Region III/4A and District 3/3A championship tournaments.
Ten visiting teams -- both boys and girls -- will play at Skyview High School and 10 more will play at Nikiski Middle-Senior High School through Saturday, bringing more than 300 people to the central peninsula, including coaches, managers and chaperones. The numbers of visitors will bring with them funds to boost the economy in those communities and in neighboring areas.
Erica Williamson, member services manager for the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce, said this weekend's visitors would wake up tourism businesses that have been laying dormant through the winter months.
"The economic impact is important this time of year because you have an influx of money," she said, "and because you don't have the tourists yet. Our visitor season doesn't start until about April or early May.
"A lot of hotels and motels are filling up or are (already) full," she said. "What we're doing now when people call from out of town, is trying to find them places to stay."
Kearlee Wright, owner of the King Salmon Inn and Restaurant, said the business community can't help but benefit from the visitors.
"Obviously, that tournament brings in revenue," he said. "We're booked. All 49 rooms."
But, he said, some of the booked rooms may not make it through the weekend as teams are eliminated from the tournament.
"They may book for three days," Wright said. "But if a team loses, they don't stay."
Connie Thomson, a front desk clerk at the Riverside House in Soldotna, said her hotel is filled with more than just the basketball crowd.
"I may have 10 rooms," she said. "I think half of the guys who are going to be here are bus drivers. I also have a pageant going on, and there are people here for that."
Many of the hotels adjust their rates to accommodate school athletic budgets.
"We have a special school activities rate," said Linda Anderson, general manager of the Aspen Hotel of Soldotna.
Area restaurants stand to gain from the increase in business during the weekend. The Soldotna McDonald's is just a few miles from Skyview, and Manager Debbie Hill said the crew has been reinforced for the rush.
"We have added to our normal schedule for this tournament because it brings in a lot of people," she said. "We base our number of crew on projected hourly sales. Crew will probably increase by 10 to 20 percent during peak hours.
"We get them by the bus loads," she continued. "Somebody sees them coming and they yell 'bus!' and we all get ready."
Not all of the teams, however, will stay in hotels or eat at area restaurants. Nikiski Athletic Director A.J. Tiger said some of the students will be housed in the Nikiski community.
"Our churches have opened up their doors for some of our schools to stay," he said. "Very few will be staying at hotels."
He said Nikiski Nazarene Church, North Kenai Baptist, Port Nikiski Baptist and Aurora Heights will host students. He said he expects some of the teams to even furnish their own food, although he still anticipates that they'll spend time in the retail businesses.
"Most of the teams will bring their own sandwiches and meals," he said. "That will keep them pretty close to the school. Some of them will frequent some of the restaurants. I know they'll probably go to Big Kmart and Carrs to get supplies for their teams."
Williamson was not able to provide a count of the people expected to visit for the tournament, but she expects at least four times the number directly affiliated with the schools.
She said this will be an opportunity for the central peninsula to showcase itself to people from all over the state who may be visiting for the first time.
"For every player that is coming, I'm seeing at least three family members," she said. "It's kind of neat because they're coming from all areas of Alaska, and they have not been to the area. When they come into the visitors center, we encourage them to come back. Not just during tourist season. We've been really pushing the winter tourism, especially to people from Alaska."
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