Bainbridge Uses Recreation as an Economic Development Tool

August 6, 2012

Bainbridge lures fishermen throught its Boat Basin Park and Cheney Griffin Park.  The new mega-ramps and accomodations were part of former Goernor Sonny Perdue's 'Go Fish' initiative.

Whether it’s a big bass or a base hit you’re after, Bainbridge can accommodate. The city of 12,697 people uses recreational activities such as fishing or baseball as a tool to lure visitors, stir economic development and improve the quality of life for residents.

“The city has access to several hundreds of acres of land owned by the Corps of Engineers and leased to the city,” explained Deputy City Manager Dustin Dowdy. “The purpose of the property is solely for recreation use.”

The city contracted with Tallahassee, Fla.-based Genesis Group to help craft a master plan for the Corps property, which sits along the city’s Flint River waterfront from the city’s Boat Basin Park on the south to Cheney Griffin Park on the north. The city completed the master plan in 2006 and soon after, began to implement some of the components.

“A big part of the plan was to demolish our old boat ramps and replace them with three mega-ramps that are big enough for two boats at once,” Dowdy explained. “We also included floating docks, state of the art restrooms, increased parking and a weigh-in pad.” The new mega-ramps and accompanying amenities opened at the Earle May Boat Basin Park in October 2010. A $500,000 state Go Fish grant and proceeds from a local SPLOST funded the $1.2 million project.

The marina project is paying off; fishing tournaments have multiplied in the city in the past year. “We were averaging one or two a year before the mega-ramps were built,” Dowdy said. “We now average 8-10 major bass tournaments a year that bring between 150 and 200 boats. Those fishermen are usually here three or four days, have hotel stays and purchase food and gas while they are here. There has been an obvious benefit to the local economy when those fishermen come to town.”

Following completion of the mega-ramp project, the city started construction on a new sports complex. Completed in March 2011, the 36-acre Bill Reynolds III Sports Complex includes new football/soccer playing fields, new basketball courts, covered batting cages, state-of-the-art concession and restroom facilities and parking that can accommodate more than 700 cars.

“The facility was designed to attract baseball and softball tournament traffic,” Dowdy said. “We’ve had a dramatic increase in softball and baseball tournaments; now we are averaging two a month—some as large as 40 teams. If each team brings 12 to 14 kids, a couple of parents, maybe even a sibling or two, the economic benefit starts to add up with the impact to the hotels, restaurants and gas stations.”

The city also built a multi-court tennis complex to attract tennis tournaments. “Our average tennis tournaments have 200 participants for two days,” Dowdy said. “If each child brings two parents, we are getting 600 visitors over those two days. Again the economic benefits add up.”

Aquatic and camping amenities can also be found in Bainbridge and the city is currently designing streetscapes and a Riverwalk along the waterfront as part of the master plan.

“The Riverwalk and streetscapes will go to construction in the next few months,” Dowdy said. “The goal of this effort is to connect our two most vital resources, which is our downtown and the Flint River. Visitors to river will be attracted to the downtown, and downtown visitors will want to go to the river.” Renovations to Cheney Griffin Park are also planned.

Dowdy pointed out that voters approved the recreation SPLOST projects, signaling a town willingness to invest in economic development. “These projects are also for the people who live here,” he added.

Bainbridge Visitors and Convention Bureau Executive Director Adrienne Harrison confirmed that the city’s recreational amenities are yielding visitors and dollars.

“We have seen a very big increase in our hotel and motel tax just since we completed our boat ramp site and complex,” Harrison said. “Our restaurants and gas stations have reported an increase in business and several new restaurants have opened downtown.”

Dowdy said Bainbridge wants to be seen as a destination.

“We want to become an attractive community for visitors and residents alike,” he said. “We want recreation to be one large component of our economic development.”

Dowdy advises cities seeking a way to lure new visitors should take the plunge.
“Don’t be scared to spend the money and invest in your local economy,” he said. It’s worth it. The dividends are obvious.”

Harrison said cities should leverage their existing assets to attract visitors.

“One thing that we have learned is to use what you already have, for us that’s the river,” she said. “We have been fortunate enough to have great vision in the city.”