Luzerne County will host the Keystone State Games Festival of Sports the next two years, county Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Janet Hall told county council during her recent budget presentation.
“It will be a huge economic generator to our county,” Hall said, noting her agency has been working on landing the event for several years.
Modeled after Olympic games, the festival is the state’s largest annual multi-sport competition for amateur athletes, its website says.
Since their inception in the early 1980s, the summer games have been held in this area twice — 1987 through 1989 and 2002 through 2004, according to past published reports. Most recently, the games were held in the York area.
A 2004 news article said the event that year attracted thousands of competitors and was expected to pour millions of dollars into Northeastern Pennsylvania’s economy from lodging, food and other purchases.
Hall told council her 2018 budget — which relies on no general fund subsidy — has earmarked approximately $50,000 to sponsor the Keystone games.
Other counties across the state competed for the hosting opportunity because of the economic benefits, Hall noted. In addition to the sponsorship fee, which is standard accepted practice, her agency also pitched the county’s lodging options, proximity to major highways and availability of flights at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport.
County Manager C. David Pedri and several council members praised Hall’s department for securing the event.
Specific venues for the games have yet to be determined.
The bureau’s total proposed 2018 budget is $701,386, a decrease of $4,000 compared to this year.
Most of its revenue comes from the hotel tax.
The hotel tax is 11 percent in the county. The state receives 6 percent, and the county tacked on another 5 percent in 1996 to help fund county tourism and the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre Township.
After the county treasurer’s office is paid a 2 percent administrative fee, the arena receives 80 percent, while 20 percent goes to the bureau for tourism.
Hall’s bureau has budgeted $550,000 from the hotel tax next year, an increase of $38,000 that has been attributed to the continued addition of new lodging establishments. The bureau also receives revenue from membership dues and cooperative advertising.
On the expense side, the largest purchase — $250,000 — is for advertising and promotions, which includes the Keystone games sponsorship and tens of thousands of dollars provided to more than 65 county parades, festivals and other events, Hall said.
She also budgeted $25,000, or an increase of $5,000, for office supplies, anticipating some new purchases if the bureau moves from its office on Public Square in Wilkes-Barre into the former historic New Jersey Central train station at the corner of Market Street and Wilkes-Barre Boulevard.
Her proposed budget also allocates $30,000 for rent, an increase of $2,000, with a possible move in mind.
Developer George Albert and other investors with Market Square Properties Development LLC bought the 6.36-acre train station site from the county Redevelopment Authority for $1.2 million last year.
Market Square property manager Greg Barrouk said this week that plans to renovate the station are under city review. Remodeling and restoration are expected to be completed in 2018, he added.
Renovating the train station for the bureau and other tenants will cost about $750,000, which is more expensive than tearing down the historic structure and building new, Albert has said. The building had deteriorated and attracted stray cats and the homeless in recent years.
Hall told council that tourism generates $889.7 million in revenue and supports more than 7,000 jobs in the county.
“It’s a very important, vital industry to our county, and it doesn’t cost us anything,” she said. “There are zero county tax dollars in our budget.”
On a recent day, the bureau’s guest book was signed by visitors from Maryland, Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Vermont and North Carolina, she said at her budget session. Some come for genealogy research or to hike and bike.
“It gives you just a little bit of an idea that there are people coming here,” said Hall.