The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

CIAA looks for home for basketball tournaments with contract in Charlotte expiring this year

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Commissioner Jacqie Carpenter said she hopes to have a decision on the future site of the CIAA basketball tournaments by late March.

The weeklong men's and women's basketball tournaments tip off Tuesday in Charlotte, where it has been held since 2006.

However, the contract between the 12-team conference consisting of predominantly African-American schools and the city of Charlotte expires after this year's tournaments.

Carpenter said the conference will be gathering bids from cities that have expressed interest in hosting the tournaments beginning in 2015 in the coming weeks.

Among the cities interested in hosting the event include Charlotte, N.C., Raleigh-Durham, N.C., Greensboro, N.C., Winston-Salem, N.C., Atlanta, Philadelphia, Hampton, Va. and Washington, D.C.

"We are focused on having the best tournament we can then after that, review the bids from the cities and work with our board and hopefully have a decision by late March," Carpenter said. "(The timetable) will depend on how many bids we receive."

The Division II CIAA combined tournaments, the third-largest NCAA basketball tournaments in the country in terms of attendance and economic impact, moved from Raleigh to Charlotte in 2006.

Charlotte City officials have twice since renewed with the CIAA on separate three-year contracts.

Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority executive director Mike Butts said the city plans to make an aggressive bid to keep the tournament.

"Our interest is very high," Butts said. "We have been very pleased to have the privilege of hosting the event. Charlotte is a walkable city with hotels, restaurants and entertainment nearby. And it's a safe environment."

The CIAA is seeking more secured hotel rooms from the bidding cities within walking distance to where games are played.

Carpenter said the tournament has grown steadily over the years, and estimates more than 5,000 rooms are needed.

In previous years she said there haven't been enough rooms allocated to member institutions, sponsors, special guests and fans, forcing some to deal with the inconvenience of travelling into the city to attend events.

Carpenter said Charlotte has been a "great host" over the past nine years and is hoping they will submit a competitive bid.

"Our goal is to make sure whatever city we go to, whether it is Charlotte or another city, is that it's an open process and one that fits our bid specifications and that we have the best experience for our student-athletes and our fans and a plan that it financially makes sense for us to be in that location," Carpenter said.

The CIAA tournament has been a moneymaker for Charlotte.

The CRVA estimated that last year's tournaments generated a $47.17 million economic impact for the city and immediate surrounding area, including $29.86 million in direct spending. That was down slightly from the $50.5 million impact in 2012 when the conference celebrated its 100-year anniversary.

Carpenter, who took over as commissioner in August 2012, said the conference is recovering financially.

She said the CIAA spent five years in a deficit before pulling out last year, in large part due to cutting down costs on what she deemed unnecessary expenditures.

While the CIAA did not release how much money it generated from last year's tournament, Carpenter knows how important the basketball tournament is to the conference's future success.

The week has become much more than just a basketball tournament for fans, who regularly attend parties that include national celebrities during their stay in Charlotte.

"This is the one of the largest events in the country and we depend on this tournament being successful so that we can distribute a significant amount of scholarship dollars to our membership institutions," Carpenter said.

The CIAA is the oldest African-American athletic conference in the nation and consists of Bowie State, Chowan, Elizabeth City State, Fayetteville State, Johnson C. Smith, Lincoln, Livingstone, Saint Augustine's, Shaw, Virginia State, Virginia Union and Winston-Salem State.

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