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Cities welcome the world

You know it's a big deal if you're looking for French and Spanish translators.

The City of Rock Hill tapped public school students, Winthrop University students and volunteers to help bridge the language gap during the 10-day UCI BMX World Championships in July.

2017 UCI BMX World Championships in Rock Hill
The City of Rock Hill drew thousands of spectators from around the world during the
2017 UCI BMX World Championships in July. Photo: Craig Dutton.

City officials had been planning the cycling event ever since the city submitted the winning bid to host it — beating out Bangkok, Thailand — three years ago. Attendance exceeded 19,400 individuals, with projected cumulative attendance for the week from multiday admissions estimated at 50,000 - 55,000, more than double the size of early estimates of cumulative attendance.

The competition drew 3,700 riders from 48 countries to the Novant Health BMX Supercross Track and delivered a $19.2 million direct economic impact.

John Taylor, Rock Hill's director of parks, recreation and tourism, said the city created two committees, one to work on logistics and the other "to get the community excited about it, making sure people took pride in their city, cleaned up their community and then rolled out the red carpet."

The event's webcast of a preview show and challenge races broke viewership records with more than 513,000 views, making it the most viewed challenge class races in BMX World Championships history.

"We were so proud to be a part of this," said Taylor. "We heard things like, 'You transcended our sport to a level it's never been before.'"

From international cycling to statewide softball and baseball championships to the solar eclipse of a lifetime, South Carolina cities and towns said, "Welcome" this summer.

How to be visitor friendly
This summer marked the twelfth time the City of Dillon Parks and Recreation Department has hosted either a Dixie Softball or Dixie Youth Baseball State Tournament in the past 15 years, an event that averaged 1,200 people for its first two days.

Softball players in statewide softball tournament in Dillon
Hundreds of softball players competed in a statewide
softball tournament in Dillon. Photo: Nigel Enoch.

As the host, the city provided the playing fields with lights, scoreboards and a sound system. City staff maintained the fields during the tournament and operated the press box area, which includes scoreboard operators, official scorekeepers and public announcers. City employees also operated the admission gates and provided police and emergency medical personnel.

"The more you can do to make the teams and visitors feel welcome, the better the experience is for everyone," said Dillon City Manager Glen Wagner. "Hosting outdoor events over multiple days is stressful for the staff, teams, parents and fans due to the unknown — the weather."

While embracing visitors is key during a multiday event, he said it's also important to keep city employees in mind.

Visitors at the City of Dillon for statewide softball tournament
The City of Dillon welcomed softball players and visitors
from across the state.
Photo: Nigel Enoch.

"A thunderstorm during the day can really put everyone on edge because teams want to play, parents want them to play, and if the staff does not have adequate equipment or material to get the fields dry and running again, it can cause issues," said Wagner. "We realize this and make every effort to provide the staff and equipment needed to make sure the teams do not have to stay any longer than scheduled, because we know that the longer they stay, the more it costs them for lodging, food and missed work."

While the City of Dillon has had many years to fine tune its hosting operation, there's always something new to consider next time.

"One thing that we did learn this year — and we are not sure how we are going to implement it — is that spectators are looking for a more convenient way to pay for admissions and concessions, such as by debit or credit cards," said Wagner. "This is something we may have to look into in the near future to help us stay user friendly."

A once-in-a-lifetime event
On August 21, two minutes of darkness drew tourists from around the world.

City of Camden firefighters view the eclipse 
City of Camden firefighters view the eclipse. Photo: City of Camden.

Dozens of cities and towns in South Carolina celebrated their status within the path of totality of a transcontinental, total solar eclipse. The Georgetown Police Department made calls to neighboring law enforcement agencies to let them know that if Georgetown needed help with eclipse crowds, those agencies would be getting a call.

But Georgetown Police Chief Kelvin Waites emphasized the city's welcome mat, which saw traffic from Poland, Quebec and Germany.

"Our officers were deployed with the mindset of being ambassadors for the City of Georgetown," he said. "They were able to answer questions and give directions to people. They were given specific assignments and were placed strategically around the city in areas most affected, so that our residents and visitors would see our presence and feel at ease to be able to fully enjoy the event."

For safety, the department ensured that every major street that was blocked off with barricades was also reinforced with vehicles.

Extending southern hospitality and an inviting atmosphere were just part of the city's duties, said Debra Bivens, finance director for the City of Georgetown. She listed crowd control, safety, emergency medical response, restroom facilities, vendors for the park area, water distribution and hydration stations as the other duties.

"It was extremely hard to plan for the unknown," said Bivens. "But everyone did a great job, and we did it while continuing the normal processes of running the city and ensuring the safety of all of our residents and guests."

In the City of Clemson, there were about 50,000 visitors along with permanent residents and returning Clemson University students.

"Naturally our biggest responsibility was the overall public safety," said Clemson Police Chief Jimmy Dixon. "On this day in particular, we had to prepare for traffic control and medical services."

He said the city police department, the university police, Pickens County Emergency Management and Clemson University Fire and EMS put together a plan for the eclipse that was very similar to how they work during home football games.

"The day went smoothly," said Dixon. "And overall, it was a great day and event."

In the Midlands, business at hotels surged during the long eclipse weekend, according to STR, Inc., a hotel data, analytics and marketplace insight firm. In downtown Columbia, hotel occupancy was up 171 percent, while average revenue per available room was up 478 percent.

Erring on the side of caution
As for lessons learned?

"As an agency, we walked away being able to reinforce what we already knew — That we can always scale back personnel and resources if we need to, but we have to prepare for the greatest scenario," said Georgetown's Waites.

In the Town of Lexington, "Eclipse Fest," held at the Icehouse Amphitheater drew 800 spectators, while Gibson Pond Park and Lexington Square Park drew several hundred more eclipse watchers.

Lexington councilmembers and mayor view the eclipse
Lexington councilmembers and mayor view the eclipse. Photo: Town of Lexington.

"The town always errs on the side of caution and is prepared for the worst and hopes for the best," said Lexington Mayor Steve MacDougall.

The City of Orangeburg drew 6,000 - 8,000 visitors for eclipse day. John Singh, assistant city manager, said the city's biggest responsibility was to maintain public safety in a situation when it was difficult to gauge the number of anticipated visitors. He said the city would keep looking at ways to enhance the visitor experience under circumstances when the number of visitors is difficult to predict.