COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - This is the first time in nearly 50 years that March Madness is coming to the Midlands. The tournament will bring as many as 25,000 extra people to the downtown area, according to the Columbia Chamber of Commerce. Columbia last hosted NCAA men’s games back in 1970.
Before the first and second round games kick off, the teams will offer an open practice. This is free and open to the public on Thursday at Colonial Life. Admission is first-come, first-serve.
You will, however, need tickets for the first round of games Friday, and Sunday will be the second round.
Gameday shuttles will be available for free. There are three parking sites where you can leave your car at no charge and take the shuttle, which will run as late as 1 a.m. after Friday’s game. The president and CEO of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, Carl Blackstone, tells WIS-TV the tournament will certainly have a significant impact on the city.
“Expect between 20 and 25,000 people here for this weekend. Two days of basketball games, eight teams – so they’re bringing their fans and their team and their alums with them for this event. So, restaurants should be full. Hotels should be full. Downtown will be packed next weekend. You know, we haven’t had a NCAA tournament since 1970. So, it’s been almost 50 years since we’ve had this tournament here.”
Blackstone also says the influx of people in the area will also mean a big-time boost to the local economy.
“If you think about 20-25,000 additional people here, which is just about maybe a quarter of what comes for a football game, but what we’ll anticipate seeing are lots of folks in the retail and the hospitality area. We hope to have an impact of about $9 million. That’s a significant bump to the tax base here in Columbia, but again, the biggest impact is going to be really showcasing Columbia for folks that want to come back and see it.”
For more information on events or parking during March Madness in the Midlands, visit the Columbia SC sports website here.