Paul Lawler sees regional collaboration as the way to make the most of what could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Wilmington area.
The Wilmington city councilman wants the city to lead the way in forming a regional economic cooperative to support the PGA Tour Wells Fargo Championship golf tournament, to be held May 1-7 next year at Eagle Point Golf Club. In addition to economic and tourism organizations and government entities from New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties, the cooperative could include representatives from local businesses.
“The Wells Fargo tournament means we’re going to have more attention focused on Wilmington than ever in its history, and we need to figure out a way to leverage that attention to improve our economy,” Lawler said Monday.
The city council is expected to consider the resolution to form the regional economic cooperative at its meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.
“The City of Wilmington aspires to capitalize on this opportunity by working in partnership with the adjoining counties, municipalities, and businesses to find a cooperative, collaborative marketing program to promote the area to the extent practical, including reaching our global visitors at gates of the Wilmington International Airport,” the resolution says.
The high-profile tournament is moving from its usual setting at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte to Eagle Point in Wilmington for one year to give Quail Hollow time to prepare for hosting the 2017 PGA Championship in August. In May this year, the tournament drew 185,000 people to Charlotte, among them officials from Wilmington
“This opportunity presents the City of Wilmington and more broadly the region with the chance to leave a permanent impression on thousands of visitors from around the globe,” the city’s resolution says. “It makes this area attractive as a tourist destination, a robust economic engine, as well as an attractive location to live.”
Last year, tournament executive director Kym Hougham
said scenes from Wilmington are expected to reach 1 billion households across 225 countries and territories outside the United States through international TV partners, in addition to U.S. network programming.
Community leaders have already been working on plans related to the tournament. For example, Wilmington as a destination will be featured on the Wells Fargo tournament website, said Kim Hufham, president and CEO of the New Hanover County Tourism Development Authority.
Also Tuesday, Hufham is scheduled to give a presentation at the beginning of the Wilmington City Council meeting on the tournament-related efforts of the Wilmington and Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau, which is operated by the tourism development authority.
She said tourism officials have been hoping to pull together the different local groups together in November to come up with a master working plan to avoid duplication of efforts and find ways to enhance others related to the tournament.
When it comes to collaboration on highlighting the region, Dana Fisher said Monday, “I tell everybody, ‘Count me in.’”
Fisher, executive director of the North Brunswick Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center, said it’s like the old saying about never getting a second chance to make a first impression.
“We want our first impression to be some place everybody would love to move here, relocate their business here, visit here ... they might have some ideas I haven’t even thought about; that’s why I figure when you put people together collectively, you figure out better ways to do something," she said.
In response to a question Monday about whether Brunswick County government officials would be willing to join the cooperative, Amanda Hutcheson, Brunswick County spokeswoman, said, "We are excited about the golf tournament coming and Brunswick County very much believes in regionalization. We think these efforts would benefit the entire region."
Lawler said he believes coming together is critical.
“We need to address this in a collaborative manner, which means everybody has to give a little bit as we move forward,” he said.