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OPINION - At play

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) “God is happiest when His children are at play.” It’s a great quote, which I’d first heard in Robert Redford’s movie The Legend of Bagger Vance. Beethoven and Oliver Wendell Holmes said similar things.

Two weekends ago we had our most playful weekend of the year in the Wausau area. There were hundreds of out-of-towers who came here for a big softball tournament. Others were here for the national canoe competition on our whitewater course. Friends and families gathered for Wausau Event’s Balloon Rally and Rib Fest. There were large crowds on the 400-block for the chalk festival and sidewalk sale.

Not only are these great, fun, events – they’re also good for the economy. Everyone who came spent money in the area; perhaps just fueling up and eating lunch on the low end, to bringing an entire family and spending two or three nights in a local hotel. Weekends like this have an impact.

But we need more of them. If tourism is going to be a bigger segment of our economy there has to be greater intensity at getting out-of-towners to come here and play. This past weekend, while not void of activity, was quieter by comparison. The fair season is here – which are great traditional events – but they attract mostly local folk and don’t have the same economic impact. The next really big out-of-town event will be Artrageous Weekend in early September when large groups of people flood into town for a giant craft fair. Truth is, that's too much downtime between the really, really big events.

There are cities that have committed to aggressive summer tourism. Toronto holds 10 summer festivals on various weekends throughout the summer: Asian, Greek, Gay, African, Caribbean, German, etc…  The only weekends they don’t have a festival are official holiday weekends like Victoria Day, Labor Day, Canada Day, and Civic Holiday – when everyone is free to come into the city and play.  Milwaukee is a fine example in Wisconsin where the city clusters its own festivals around it’s marquee event, Summerfest.

I salute everyone, especially volunteers, who help put on the events we all enjoy in Central Wisconsin. They offer us a chance to show off one of America’s great small cities. If we can come up with two or three more ‘big ideas’, we’d all benefit from a growing local economy.

Chris Conley
7.22.13