Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 16, 2014

Saints’ camp good news for economy


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— “Oh, when the Saints, come marching in...” That tune will adequately describe the scene in White Sulphur Springs in about four months when the NFL’s New Orleans Saints hold a portion of their training camp at The Greenbrier.

Greenbrier owner Jim Justice has committed to building three practice fields on property at the resort, along with a 55,000-square-foot multi-purpose building equipped with meeting rooms, weight rooms, locker rooms, training and physical therapy accommodations, and kitchen and dining facilities. The cost for the new facilities is expected to be in the range of $20 million  to $25 million.

The Saints selected The Greenbrier for its location and mild weather, with summer temperatures in the low 80s. All Saints players and staff will stay at the resort, enjoying the benefits of this world-class destination resort, spa and golf club.

The Saints will come marching in less than a month after the PGA Greenbrier Classic, which attracts the top golfers in the world to southern West Virginia.

The economic impact of the Saints’ coming north is not yet known, but all NFL camps attract fans and media who need places to stay, eat and play and it should have a positive impact on the local, regional and state economies.

A few weeks back I called for the creation of a Mercer County Sports Authority to do just what Justice is doing at the Greenbrier, utilize facilities at hand to enhance economic development.

While an authority has not been formed, I have talked with several people who have some great ideas and possibly in the not-too-distant future an announcement may occur regarding sporting events that may bring people into the area. I can’t go into further details or explanation at this time, but in the preliminary stage let me just say it could be a pretty good thing coming.

Some people believe sports should be relegated to the sports pages, but that is a short-sighted view. Look at any thriving city and you will see at its core a strong commitment to its sports teams that provide not only a sense of community that brings people together, but more importantly a source of economic support that keeps cities alive and moving.

The only city of which I can think was a loser in sports was Montreal.

It went heavily into debt for the 1976 Olympics and the baseball Expos never did attract fans as anticipated, forcing the team to move to Washington, D.C. a decade ago.

Look at how the Nationals and their new ballpark have revitalized Southeast D.C. Oriole Park at Camden Yards brought new life to Baltimore’s inner harbor and both Comerica Park and Ford Field resuscitated downtown Detroit, which had been in a blight since the 1950s. Yes, Detroit is in bankruptcy as a city, but the areas surrounding those stadia are the most successful in the Motor City.

A little bit closer to home one can look at Charleston and the relatively new Appalachian Power Park. APP has brought new life to a part of town that was once empty, contained warehouses and entrance/exit ramps to the interstate. That part of Charleston is now growing and also attendance at minor league games in the capital city has increased since the move from old Watt Powell Park in Kanawha City, generating even more revenue to local and state coffers.

One may be asking why the Saints and the Greenbrier teamed up and a possible answer to that is New Orleans head coach Sean Payton. Payton caddied for Ryan Palmer at The Greenbrier Classic last summer. According to Justice, Payton fell in love with the people of West Virginia and that got the ball rolling.

Tourism is a major part of the West Virginia economy and a major tourist attraction are sports and sporting events.  Here in southern West Virginia we have not only the Greenbrier and its many amenities, but we also have the New River Gorge area, Pipestem, historic towns like Bramwell and the Hatfield and McCoy Trails. It all feeds on each other.

A person attending Saints training camp may take a side trip to go ATV riding, whitewater rafting on the New River, fishing at Bluestone Lake or a night at Bowen or Hunnicutt Fields. The more people that come into the region, the more who will visit our local businesses. The key is getting them here and an NFL training camp brings in folks.

I tip my hat to Jim Justice and the economic enhancements he is bringing to the Mountain State through The Greenbrier Classic, the tennis challenge matches at the Greenbrier and now when the Saints come marching in.

Bob Redd is a Daily Telegraph sports writer and editorial columnist. Contact him at bredd@bdtonline.com. Follow him @BDTRedd.