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City preparing for largest soccer tourney in state

 

Grass Masters employee David Garner touches up the fields at the Columbus Soccer Complex on Tuesday afternoon. More than 120 teams and as many as 4,800 visitors will be arriving in Columbus Friday for the President’s Cup soccer tournament.

Grass Masters employee David Garner touches up the fields at the Columbus Soccer Complex on Tuesday afternoon. More than 120 teams and as many as 4,800 visitors will be arriving in Columbus Friday for the President’s Cup soccer tournament. Photo by: Mary Alice Weeks/Dispatch Staff

 

William Browning

 

Mississippi's largest soccer tournament will take place in Columbus this weekend. 

 

One hundred and twenty teams from every corner of the state are scheduled to take part in the Mississippi Soccer Association's President's Cup. Tom Velek, the tournament's director, said the event will bring more than 4,800 visitors to the city. 

 

Though the matches will begin Saturday morning and run through Sunday evening, teams are required to check in at the Trotter Convention Center on Friday evening. Organizers say people will begin trickling into Columbus around noon Friday. 

 

"All the hotel rooms in the area are booked," Velek said. 

 

Throughout the past two weeks Velek has steered people toward hotels in West Point and Starkville because Columbus has so few rooms remaining. 

 

Ashley Smith, communications director with the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau, said her office has determined that at least 800 rooms have been booked for the tournament alone. 

 

"This number includes both hotels and bed and breakfasts," she said. 

 

The CVB anticipates the economic impact of the tournament will be $2 million for Columbus and Lowndes County. 

 

"All of these people have to eat and sleep," Nancy Carpenter, executive director of the CVB, said. "Some are going to shop while they're in town." 

 

The majority of the matches will be played at the Columbus Soccer Complex. Others will be played at the Cook Soccer Complex and the field at Columbus High School, according to Velek. 

 

Roger Short, the executive director of the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority, said preparations are ongoing. Grass was cut Monday and manicured to the right height. It will be cut again Friday morning. Some extra landscaping was done. On Tuesday morning county road crews laid asphalt on a new entrance into the soccer complex off of the bypass. 

 

"We think we're ready," Short said. "We're going to try and showcase this thing...so we have the opportunity to bring it back to town." 

 

This is the first time Columbus has hosted the MSA President's Cup. It has been held in the past on the Gulf Coast, in Jackson and in Tupelo. Columbus is the smallest city to ever host the event, according to Velek. 

 

CVB funds were used to bring the tournament to Columbus. The bid, Carpenter said, was for $30,000. 

 

The $5 million soccer complex, a collaborative effort between the city of Columbus and Lowndes County, opened in Sept. 2012. There were criticisms shortly thereafter, mainly centering around a possible lack of parking (331 spaces) and restrooms (there was only one facility). 

 

On Tuesday, Short said those potential problems have been addressed. A second restroom has been added and the facilities at the Hitching Lot Farmer's Market along 2nd Avenue North will also be open during the tournament. Portable restrooms will be brought in, as well, he said. 

 

Three new parking areas were created last year, Short said. There are more than 800 spaces now. A second concessions facility has also been opened. 

 

Velek said that without the soccer complex in place, the tournament and the economic benefits it brings to the area are not a possibility for Columbus. 

 

"Without that investment, it's not even a discussion," he said. "It's a full stop." 

 

Velek believes that everyone in city -- from hotel staff, to restaurant waiters, to tournament volunteers -- has a chance to make an impression this weekend. 

 

"If we handle this well, we're in," he said. "If we do well, we can go back next year and say, 'Look how well things went in 2014.'" 

 

Mayor Robert Smith, in a statement issued Tuesday, agreed. 

 

"This tournament is not only a great economic boost, it is a great opportunity for us to distinguish Columbus as a city that truly has something for everyone -- whether it's athletic events, outdoor recreational activities, dining, shopping or historic tours," he said. "We look forward to hosting many more tournaments in the years ahead." 

 

Nathan Gregory contributed to this report.

 

 

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