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Tri-Cities has benefited from tourism industry...can Sunnyside do the same?

According to the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau, in 2006 alone 188 conventions and sporting events generated $38.7 million in direct spending for the Tri-Cities.

In addition, future meetings and events already confirmed for the Tri-Cities will generate $46 million in 2007 and beyond.

The bureau reports the travel and tourism industry is becoming increasingly important to the Tri-Cities economy, with the number of group room night bookings increasing 12 percent since 2005 and 112 percent since 2004.

The bureau claims in Benton and Franklin counties alone, tourism in now a $296.5 million industry and tourism supports 4,980 jobs and generates $23 million in state and local tax revenues.

Kris Watkins, bureau president and CEO, said, "I am extremely proud of the bureau's accomplishments. This community has recognized the fact that tourism is economic development. We've developed aggressive programs which are benefiting our business community through visitor spending, our cities through additional tax revenues and our citizens through new jobs and an improved quality of life."

That's great news for the Tri-Cities, but how can Sunnyside attract more tourists and keep them spending their dollars here.

"There's a lot of things that could be done," Pam Turner, director of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce said. "We have a great little community going on here."

She said if last year's school bond issue had passed, enabling a state-of-the-art sports complex to be built, Sunnyside could have hosted a lot more events than it does now.

Sunnyside High School hosts sporting events for other leagues that brings in people from out of town. Bill Daley, athletic director for Sunnyside High School, said Sunnyside is a good place to host sporting events because of the centrally located position of Sunnyside.

The city is approximately two and one-half hours from Seattle and about the same amount of time from Spokane.

Brian Hart, principal of Sunnyside High School, said he is happy to host these events, as long as they don't interfere with Sunnyside High School events.

Sunnyside High School has hosted class B district championships and this year hosted the 2A district championships.

"That basketball tournament brought 2,000 people to Sunnyside," Daley said.

Also this year, the Region IV wrestling tournament was held in Sunnyside. There were 18 teams from Seattle, Spokane and the CBL league that participated. Approximately 1,000 spectators showed up.

Sunnyside High School can't keep the gate receipts but they can keep the concession receipts and the benefit to the community, with all those people eating at Sunnyside restaurants, buying gas and staying at hotels in town gives a boost to the economy.

Turner said the two biggest draws in Sunnyside right now are the Lighted Farm Implement Parade and the Cinco de Mayo celebrations.

"These events bring in thousands," she said.

She said a committee is working on making Sunshine Days a more attractive event to draw in even more people.

The wineries in town and those in the surrounding areas participate in festivals such as the Red Wine and Chocolate weekend, Spring Barrel Tasting and sponsor events in Seattle, Tacoma and Bellingham that feature Yakima Valley wine and hopefully brings tourists back to the area.

The biggest thing, according to Turner, is that things are done well.

"Take Cinco de Mayo for instance," she said. "The Hispanic culture is so fascinating, we want to be able to embrace that."

Dick Marchel, manager at Sunnyside's Best Western GrapeVine Inn, agrees.

He said his hotel is full in the summer and would like to see something done to draw people here to Sunnyside in the fall, spring and winter, besides the Lighted Farm Implement Parade.

A former council member in the town of Winthrop, Marchel would like to see the downtown Sunnyside area split into themes.

"Why do two million visitors visit Leavenworth every year," he asked rhetorically.

He said he would like to see Sunnyside embrace its roots and have a couple of blocks where the town looks likes something straight out of Mexico. Another two blocks, he said, could be dedicated to the Dutch that live here, "...and we could also have an American western theme area. Something to draw the tourists in," he said.

In the Dutch area, all the restaurants and stores would look like a normal Dutch town with the workers dressing in traditional Dutch clothes. The same would go for the Hispanic and western parts of town, Marchel explained.

Marchel said he thinks this would bring in lots of tourists, noting it has worked for Winthrop and Leavenworth.

Turner said there are events the chamber sponsors to help bring in tourists, like the 3-on-3 basketball tournament held for two days in July.

She said she is also in talks with Bill Flower about how to set up a Farmer's Market in town, hopefully in Centennial Square in Sunnyside. This, she noted, would increase traffic for downtown shopping areas.

She said she's also thought about trying to bring in concerts to the area but isn't quite sure where they could be held.

"I can't do this all by myself," she added. "We need lots of volunteers."

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