Is Cape Fear Ready For Its Close-Up?

By Neil Cotiaux, posted Apr 21, 2017
Kym Hougham, executive director of the Wells Fargo Championship, on the greens at Eagle Point Golf Club. (Photo by Chris Brehmer)
At its retail stores, Port City Java’s corporate reputation is on the line for all to see.

“Our mission is to exceed the expectations of every guest on every visit,” the Wilmington-based chain of coffee shops proclaims in prominent signage.

On May 1, the company’s mission will be tested to the max when its product starts being served to upwards of 30,000 visitors a day at Eagle Point Golf Club, site of the 2017 Wells Fargo Championship.

CEO Steve Schnitzler is leaving nothing to chance. “I am eager, and I do mean eager” to hear more exact crowd estimates, Schnitzler said three weeks before the event.

To please its in-store customers, Port City Java roasts, grinds, packs and delivers its product to each store, where it is brewed to exacting standards in smaller quantities.

But to meet the demands of the Wells Fargo crowd, Schnitzler said, a company van will have to pass through the country club’s gate with a large quantity of packaged product by 7 a.m. each day and hopefully, “exceed the expectations” of pros and spectators, each of whom will form lasting impressions of what they experience at the tournament.

“If we do a poor job of it, that’s horrible,” the CEO added. “You don’t want to be a weak link in the whole production.”

Schnitzler isn’t alone in his drive to score a birdie on behalf of the community. As the first PGA Tour event to be held in Wilmington in 47 years, this year’s Wells Fargo Championship – a one-off event from its usual venue in Charlotte – represents a chance to create positive first impressions among tens of thousands of outsiders while generating a projected economic impact of $40 million to $60 million in the area.

“The business community has been very, very supportive of the golf tournament,” said Kym Hougham, the event’s executive director, especially given the fact that the resources of Charlotte’s 2.4-million metro area dwarf those in a region of 278,000. In a final push to put their best foot forward, community leaders remain focused on two overarching goals: getting a growing number of companies to consider relocating here and making first-time visitors comfortable with Cape Fear as a place to live, work and play.

On-course hospitality, meeting the needs of visitors as they crisscross the area and staging a unified promotional campaign are vital to achieving those goals, community leaders believe.

Golf As A Business Tool

From the moment guests arrive at Eagle Point, they’ll have the opportunity to become better acquainted with the region.

Two “expo tents” just inside the spectator entrance – one shared by the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce and the Wilmington and Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), the other hosted by Pender County – will help orient visitors to the course, answer initial questions and provide marketing materials that highlight the area’s attributes.

Off the 18th green, a double-decker structure comprising 44 hospitality chalets with 22 on each level will offer invited guests a coveted spot to eat, drink, watch the pros sink their final shots and get to know their hosts better.

Natalie English, the new president and CEO of the Wilmington chamber who was active in the Charlotte tournament as a chamber official there, describes the chalet that the new Choose Cape Fear economic development marketing initiative will share with N.C. Ports as an opportunity to help guests better understand “all we have to offer for doing business in the region.”

Economic development and ports representatives, including English, will entertain guests “all day, every day,” she said. “We’ll have it open the entire time of play.”

“It’s probably less about specific clients who are in the final stages” than it is about cultivating new prospects for relocation, she said. With national site-selection experts remaining a critical part of the corporate relocation process, “We hope to have several of them throughout the week,” English said.

Following the tournament, English will dash off thank-you notes to prospects and pass along leads to Wilmington Business Development (WBD), which has purchased its own chalet.

While Pender County is “poised for growth” and hopes to attract some new retailers to Hampstead and Burgaw in particular, it opted not to purchase a chalet for cost reasons but to use its standing relationship with WBD for recruitment purposes, said Tammy Proctor, the county’s tourism director. Brunswick and New Hanover counties are doing likewise, their officials said.

Businesses that have purchased chalets include firms in the retail, financial, real estate and medical fields. Throughout tournament week, hospitality services at Eagle Point will be handled by an array of vendors.

While the Charlotte-based event uses standing vendors for many items including tents, scaffolding and catering for the sake of consistency and pricing, organizers have tried to utilize as many local vendors in Wilmington as they can. Local or regional firms are now providing everything from beer, banners and signage to floral arrangements, strawberries and baked goods.

“We’re using as much local as we can possibly do,” said Jan Ivey, the tournament’s director of marketing.

Engaging Each Visitor

While on-course chalets will play a key role in business recruitment, creating favorable conditions for those in the area for business or just pleasure will occur over a wide geographic area. One major gateway to the region, Wilmington International Airport (ILM), is bracing for a surge of passengers.

“We’re looking at full flights,” said ILM Operations Manager Gary Taylor, with American adhering to its regular schedule and Delta adding a couple more flights.

Despite the increased traffic, Taylor doesn’t see congestion around the airport as an issue. For one, the 190 rental cars set aside for tournament pros will be pre-staged at the international terminal and brought forward to the main building in twos or threes as golfers step off their flights.

In a further effort to greet visitors, ILM recently invited several organizations to brief its staff, said Carol LeTellier, ILM’s business development director. About 50 “ambassadors” are now more knowledgeable about various community resources and points of interest and better able to field questions and make suggestions, she explained.

In downtown Wilmington, business owners are using a similar tactic.

Terry Espy, president of the Downtown Business Alliance, has informed the approximately 140 members of her group about an online Wells Fargo Championship Toolkit developed by the CVB. It includes information on ticket-sale locations, parking and other spectator information.

Retailers, hotels and other tourism partners can access the kit on the Wilmington and Beaches website by using a special link provided by CVB “in anticipation of what will most likely be our largest heads-in-beds event to date,” said Connie Nelson, the bureau’s communications director.

“I’m sure we’re going to see an onslaught of people downtown,” Espy added.

Across tournament week and at multiple locations, the region’s new economic development marketing initiative also will ask out-of-towners to “Choose Cape Fear. Discover Opportunity.” In downtown Wilmington, for example, banners will be affixed to light poles and stationed where buses depart for Eagle Point.

The campaign, buttressed by the website, is currently being funded by the Wilmington Chamber’s Cape Fear Future program, the City of Wilmington, New Hanover County and Columbus County’s economic development officials and will use multiple messaging platforms after the last spectator has departed to capitalize on the goodwill generated by the tournament.

In a similar vein, an unusual coalition of 10 organizations – Brunswick, Duplin, Onslow and Pender counties along with the City of Jacksonville, Wilmington and Beaches CVB, the Greater Topsail Area Chamber, Surf City, Leland and North Carolina Coast Host – have banded together to stage a May 3 reception for domestic and international members of the media covering the Wells Fargo event.

“This is the only time I can remember all of us working together on one project,” Proctor said.

The event is making one new area business extremely happy.

Shannon Pitts, general manager of The Sailfish, a six-month-old restaurant on the Intracoastal Waterway at Scotts Hill Marina, expects many of an estimated 250 credentialed media to drop by for local brew, local wine and fresh seafood along with barbeque chicken and live music. The Sailfish will be closed to the public the day of the reception but will reopen the following day.

“We are going to over-prepare and over-staff,” Pitts said, employing a technique being used by numerous area businesses as they strive to put Cape Fear on the map with an international audience.

Key Facts

2017 Wells Fargo Championship
Dates: May 1-7
Location: Eagle Point Golf Club, Porters Neck
Schedule: Pro-Am events on Monday and Wednesday; four rounds of televised pro competition Thursday-Sunday on Golf Channel and CBS
Tickets: Available online, at Dick’s Sporting Goods, the tournament’s Mayfaire Town Center office and at will call at Eagle Point
Military Discount: A limited number of complimentary tickets are available for active and retired military at will call with proper ID.
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