Blanchard Woods Park is the new home of the NCAA Division II men's and women's national soccer championships.
Wednesday at the Columbia County government complex, Commission Chairman Ron Cross and other officials announced that the 2012 and 2013 events will be held at the Evans park.
In 2012, the semifinals will be held Nov. 29 and the finals Dec. 1. In 2013, the dates will be Nov. 30 and Dec. 2.
The addition of 2,600-square-foot locker rooms, currently in the design phase, was likely the clinching factor in Blanchard Woods Park getting the bid for the soccer tournaments, said Barry Smith, director of Community and Leisure Services.
"That was the missing link," Smith said of the locker rooms. "The number of fields was more than adequate. The location right here in the Evans area was perfect. But the locker rooms I think completed the deal."
The park features four regular fields plus a stadium field that features high-quality turf and collegiate lighting.
Smith said the cost of the locker rooms is $430,000, with $160,000 coming from a Blanchard Woods Park bond and $270,000 from the 1-percent sales tax for park improvements.
Charlie Beale, manager of the county recreation department, said the NCAA championships coming to Blanchard Woods is just another step in the park's development as a top venue.
After the park opened in 2007, Beale said, the first event held there was the Georgia Recreational Park State Soccer Championships. Then, the Peach Belt Conference decided that Evans would be a suitable location for its soccer championship. The semifinals and finals of that tournament have been held at Blanchard Woods Park for the past two years.
The men's and women's title games in the NCAA finals will be televised by CBS College Sports Network. Beale hopes the exposure will help the county bring even more high-profile events to Blanchard Woods Park.
"Hopefully, it will have the same effect as ESPN did when we had the first Bassmasters at Clarks Hill Lake," Beale said. "Once we had the Bassmasters in and ESPN televised it, then we started bringing in major fishing tournaments."
Beale estimated the championships will bring between 1,000 and 2,000 people, consisting of officials, players, their friends and family, as well as spectators. He estimates the economic impact at about $600,000 a year.
Beda Johnson, executive director of the Columbia County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said it's too early to predict how many people the event will bring into the area.
She said having a "world-class facility" such as Blanchard Woods Park makes getting top events an easier task.
"It really sells us," Johnson said. "That facility sold Colum-bia County, not the other way around."
Johnson said she expects a large contingent of people will want to volunteer for the event.
"There are going to be so many people who want to participate in this, from a volunteer basis," she said. "Once they get here, they'll have such a great time, we know that they'll come back."
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