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Norfolk bars, hotels hoping MEAC Basketball Tournament boosts economy

Posted at 6:10 PM, Mar 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-07 18:38:58-05

NORFOLK, Va. – The signs are pretty hard to miss.

“I could tell there was definitely an event going on here,” said Leslie Cortese, a college basketball fan who flew in from Austin, TX.

The MEAC Basketball Tournament is creating a buzz in Downtown Norfolk.

“I’m excited to see how it all plays out,” Cortese said.

The four-day college sporting event is a big economic driver for the city. VisitNorfolk, which partners with MEAC said it’s expecting to see a $3.6 million boost to the area with up to 7,000 out-of-town fans and players spending money at hotels, shops, and restaurants.

“We definitely see a significant jump in sales,” said Baxter’s owner Baxter Simmons.

Baxter’s is a sports bar on Granby Street. Simmons is banking on the extra foot traffic.

“Friday night and Saturday night, we have lots of people that are in town from all different schools,” Simmons said. “They’re coming in for [the] social aspect as well as the games. Once the games are over, they want to go out on Granby Street, or the downtown area and visit some of the bars and restaurants.”

Hotels, including The Hilton Main, Waterside Marriott, and the Sheraton, are also expecting to cash in. VisitNorfolk’s spokesperson Sarah Hughes said more than 2,500 rooms across a dozen hotels in the city are booked for visitors in town for the games.

Leslie Cortese said she had trouble finding an available hotel room.

“There were slim pickings,” she said. “I ended up opting for an Airbnb instead of going the hotel route.”

The city is trying to rebound from the COVID-19 crisis. Last year, Hughes said the MEAC brought in a little more than $3 million. That impact is a big difference from before the pandemic in 2019 when Norfolk saw an estimated $4.9 million infusion into the economy.

“We are all working together to make sure that what we do here is going to make a significant impact for not only us as a conference but the city as well,” said MEAC Commissioner Sonja Stills.

The MEAC Tournament tips off Wednesday at noon and ends with the championship game Saturday.