Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect an additional $21,519.20 the city of Akron spent in overtime and seasonal help to prepare for the Dru Joyce Shooting Stars Classic in 2016.
In search of pennies to pinch, elected leaders talked Monday about the possibility of pulling financial support for events the city of Akron has long backed, including the Dru Joyce Shooting Stars Classic and the All-American Soap Box Derby.
During a committee discussion on parks and recreation spending, the Rev. Gregory Harrison asked City Council to consider whether successful events that generate millions of dollars for the region and receive private funding really need tens of thousands of dollars in annual subsidies from the cash-strapped city.
With the Dru Joyce Shooting Stars Classic scheduled for late April and council again approving $50,000 to help fund it, the basketball tournament became the centerpiece of a conversation that explored the limits of what the city can and cannot afford.
“No one is against Dru Joyce,” Russ Neal said of the man who coached LeBron James in middle and high school at St. Vincent-St. Mary.
Previously the King James Shooting Stars Classic, the fifth-largest amateur basketball tournament in the nation took on Joyce’s name last year. The Akron Summit Convention & Visitors Bureau estimates the event, held April 28-30 across the city, will attract 40,625 guests, pumping more than $5 million into the greater Akron economy. The basketball tournament began in 2006 with 300 teams. Friends and family booked 3,500 nights at area hotels that inaugural year. In 2016, there were 626 teams and 8,900 hotel bookings.
On top of the $50,000 Akron gives the annual basketball tournament, city payroll increased by $21,519.20 last year to cover overtime and seasonal help in preparation for the event.
Akron Public Schools receives about $15,000 in rental fees for its schools from the event, according to the district.
“This is definitely a huge economic impact for greater Akron and Summit County,” said John Valle, who heads up the city department in charge of coordinating summer recreation programs for youth, which Harrison thought a better use of city money than funding a well-established event.
Harrison noted that only Akron, not its neighbors whose hotels and restaurants fill up for the three-day event, contributes financially.
“I agree with Pastor Harrison. This needs to be looked at from a regional approach,” said Councilman Jeff Fusco, who as mayor in 2015 resurrected the parks and recreation advisory panel, on which Harrison sits.
It’s basic economics, Fusco said. Maximize return on investment and bring outside dollars into the city.
Councilwoman Linda Omobien cautioned not to act in a way that would show a lack of support for an event still bearing LeBron James’ name in many publications.
Omobien said she “thinks highly of the work of Dru Joyce” and appreciates the generosity LeBron James pours into his hometown.
Councilman Bob Hoch said defunding the basketball tournament would be “penny-wise and dollar foolish.” To make a point, he jotted down the names of other city-subsidized events that should also be scrutinized, to be fair.
Rib, White and Boom. Italian Fest. Soap Box Derby. Firestone Park softball tournaments. Lock 3 concerts. First Night.
“There’s a lot of city money that goes to a lot of city programs,” Hoch said, questioning the singling out of the basketball tournament. He concluded that “the city is doing a good job and we are putting the money where it benefits its residents.”
Fighting for resources
Harrison launched the conversation about resource allocations to spotlight the fact that Akron subsidizes many events, while the city has struggled to maintain its parks and recreation budget. A massive sewer project and the need to hold public safety harmless have been prioritized above youth programming in the summer.
“How can we justify no recreation in the summer?” Harrison asked, hinting at what $50,000 could do for city youth who find trouble instead of sports. “How can we justify almost 10 years” of backing the amateur basketball tournament.
“This is a money-maker,” Harrison said. “And it’s not a money-maker for the city.”
Harrison and Hoch exchanged heated words as the committee discussion ended. Harrison accused Hoch of not needing to worry about finding funding for youth violence prevention or summer recreation programming because Hoch’s neighborhood is better than most at providing for itself. “Ellet doesn’t even want to be part of the city,” Harrison said as another committee meeting attendee persuaded him to leave.
“There hasn’t been one positive thing that’s come out of your mouth,” Hoch replied.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.