Olympic wrestling decision could affect Eastern Iowa businesses

$5.8 million poured into the corridor last spring when Iowa City hosted the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials

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After Iowa City hosted the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials last spring, officials behind the event were sold.

Josh Schamberger, president of the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the United States Olympic Committee and USA wrestling were impressed with the enthusiasm and the quality of events surrounding the trials and indicated it would be hard to consider another host city.

“We left on about as great of terms as possible,” Schamberger said. “All signs pointed toward us being the front runner (to host future wrestling trials.)”

The April 2012 event – and the related activities – cost about $600,000 to put on, according to Schamberger. The economic impact to the Eastern Iowa corridor was about $5.8 million, he said.

“That’s a pretty darn good return,” Schamberger said.

So this week’s news that the International Olympic Committee is dropping wrestling from the 2020 games comes as a huge disappointment to business leaders in the region.

“We worked and did everything we could do to demonstrate that they should never consider any other alternative – we blew the doors off of our chance to host,” Schamberger said. “But when we get together looking at a bid for 2016, it could be the last opportunity to do that.”

Schamberger said he’s hopeful there will be push-back to this decision, and wrestling will survive as an Olympic sport.

“I suspect it won’t be our last time,” he said. “This decision is pretty short sided.”

If the decision is reversed, Schamberger said, the Iowa City-Coralville area will fight to become the go-to host. Previous cities to welcome the Olympic Wresting Trials include Las Vegas, Dallas and Indianapolis, Schamberger said.

“But I don’t believe it’s possible for a community to put on the event the way we did,” he said. “It would have to be a lot for another community to bring more to the table than Iowa City and the State of Iowa

The Convention and Visitors Bureau next spring will begin its process to bid on what could be the last U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials in 2016. Schamberger said it takes organizers more than two years to start working on that bid.

“But I don’t want it to be the last one,” he said. “Not just because of what I do for a living, but because I know how deeply rooted wrestling is in this state and community.”

The community’s first opportunity to host the Olympic trials booked nearly every hotel in the area, including many in Cedar Rapids. Downtown businesses saw a huge boon.

“We experienced a wonderful gain in revenues when they were in town,” said Curtis Wiederin, general manager of the Best Western Cantebury Inn & Suites in Coralville and Hometown Inn & Suites in Cedar Rapids.  “And so to lose out on that possibility is quite significant.”

His hotels’ ownership company has a total of five hotels in Coralville and four in Cedar Rapids, and Wiederin said the bulk of those were booked during the wrestling trials last year. Although nothing was guaranteed, he said, local businesses were looking forward to seeing that bump on a reoccurring basis.

“To have that level of impact taken away definitely impacts our industry,” he said.

Nancy Bird, executive director of Downtown Iowa City, said “Fan Fest” events during the trials were “phenomenal” for local shops and eateries and provided a “huge” boost in business.

Yotopia Frozen Yogurt owner Veronica Tessler said her shop was swarming with visiting families, wrestlers and locals during the trials, and she was disappointed when she learned that hosting the trials might no longer be a possibility.

“This was really a shock to all of us,” she said. “You don’t think about the impact a decision like this has on local business, but when it brings in a huge influx of visitors, it’s certainly going to affect us.”

Active Endeavors owner Mark Weaver said he appreciated the trials not just for the business they brought to town but for the exposure.

“You could tell there were a lot of people in town, and you could tell they were from across the country,” he said. “And you want that exposure because when people visit Iowa City, they realize what a great place it is.”

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