Visit Baltimore CEO Al Hutchinson is hopeful the CIAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournament will stay in Baltimore beyond the current arrangement, and he’s also optimistic a renovated Royal Farms Arena will bring more exciting sporting events to the city long term.

Royal Farms Arena was supposed to host the CIAA Tournament in 2021, 2022 and 2023, but the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the tournament in 2021. This year’s tournament, which will wrap up with championship games Feb. 26, will be the last event at the current arena, and next year’s tournament is expected to be the first event at the renovated arena.

Hutchinson would like the tournament to remain in town beyond 2023.

“I’ve made a commitment to the CIAA that we will submit a proposal for their review sometime next month, probably toward the end of March,” Hutchinson said on Glenn Clark Radio Feb. 23. “We want to submit a proposal to encourage them to extend. That’s our hope, but we don’t take anything for granted. We have to make sure it makes sense financially for both parties. We’re working on that. We don’t have any pen to paper yet, but I can tell you we’re going to do our due diligence. We’re playing this game to win the game.”

It’s already evident that the CIAA Tournament is making a positive impact on Baltimore. Not only are there 22 basketball games taking place at Royal Farms Arena from Feb. 22-26, but there are plenty of other events happening around town in connection with the tournament.

As such, visitors are coming to town with plenty on their to-do list during a time (late February) that is typically slow. The 12 hotels that entered a booking agreement with the CIAA are at 80 percent room pickup compared to the 50-60 percent occupancy that is typical for this time of year, according to Hutchinson, who explained why that’s such a big deal with the pandemic having wreaked so much havoc of late.

“A number of these hotels the last couple years, they’ve laid off staff. Some of the general managers were furloughed. So the significance of bringing the CIAA to Baltimore, we’re putting people back to work, so it has a workforce development component to it that I don’t want folks to lose sight of,” Hutchinson said. “We’re trying to reenergize an industry that has really been in a bad place. We’re excited about this tournament here. People are back to work. I think our hotel community is excited about this tournament.”

Hutchinson is hoping for more of that energy in Baltimore with a renovated arena. Los Angeles-based Oak View Group and its partners Thirty Five Ventures, founded by Kevin Durant and Rich Kleiman, are overseeing the renovation of Royal Farms Arena, which opened in 1962. The arena will be closed for renovations after the CIAA Tournament with the intent to open it back up for the 2023 tournament.

Baltimore Development Corporation president Colin Tarbert explained last summer what a renovated arena might look like, with improvements to the concourse, seating bowl, exterior and more. Hutchinson believes a renovated arena will be an attractive destination for sporting events and more.

“There’s no doubt a new and improved Royal Farms Arena will help us in that case,” Hutchinson said. “We’ll work very closely with Baltimore City and the developer to determine the right fit for future activities. But make no mistake, we are going to be very aggressive. We want the CIAA Basketball Tournament here as long as they want to be here. But there are other opportunities that we’re going to take a look at as well. Stay tuned.”

For more from Hutchinson, listen to his interview on Glenn Clark Radio here:

And watch his conversation with Stan “The Fan” Charles here:

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox

Luke Jackson

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