Monday, August 31, 2009

Decatur to take Stock

Decatur to take Stock in spring
Soulstock Christian music concert moving from Athens State to Decatur; addition of event to give city some 75,000 guests during month of May
By Catherine Godbey, Staff Writer, The Decatur Daily

Young people celebrate at the annual Soulstock festival at Athens State University in 2008. The free one-day Christian music concert, which draws about 20,000 youths annually, will move to Point Mallard Park in Decatur next May.

What do softball players, Christian music fans and hot air balloon pilots have in common?
All will arrive en masse next May and all represent revenue sources.
From May 20 to 30, Decatur parks will host more than 75,000 people at the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics softball championship, the Alabama Jubilee and Soulstock, the newest addition to the city’s roster.
Soulstock organizers announced the relocation after 11 years at Athens State University’s Beasley Field.
“We were thoroughly pleased with Athens and the university but we had a problem,” said Philip Presley, organizer of the free one-day Christian music festival. “The ministry has been so blessed we have just run out of space.”
The solution — move to Point Mallard Park. And Decatur Parks and Recreation officials rejoiced.
“There will be a lot of youth groups coming in by bus loads, literally, to participate,” said Julianne Lowman, marketing director for Parks and Recreation.
“Bus loads,” translates to approximately 20,000 people. Traveling from South Alabama and surrounding states, some will frequent the city’s hotels, restaurants and gas stations.
In 2008, Soulstock’s popularity gained the attention of the Alabama Mountain Lakes and Tourism Association, which bestowed upon the event the Lasting Impression Award. The award recognizes an attraction, event, person or organization that improves the overall image of North Alabama tourism.
But when Presley decided in 1997 to create the event, awards, recognition and money did not motivate him.
“It started behind the church I was pastor at,” Presley said. “We wanted to do a youth rally, invite other local churches and show unity between the different churches and denominations.”
The original Soulstock, held at Valley Church in Athens, attracted 175 participants, 19,800 fewer than the 2008 event. Presley attributed the event’s success to God and the support of Soulstock’s 12- to 15-member core team.
Relying on donations from local churches, individuals and businesses, the event recruits high-profile artists, attracting thousands of teenagers and young adults. Operating with a budget of $50,000, organizers expect the 2010 Soulstock to outpace previous events, due partially to the additional space at Point Mallard.
“The Spirit of America fields offer us the possibility of crowds of 20,000, 30,000 and 40,000 people and the possibility for more success and growth,” Presley said.
Lowman said the park fits the festival’s current and future needs.
“The great thing is our infrastructure for our big events, Jubilee and Spirit of America, is already in place,” Lowman said.
Organizers scheduled the music festival for May 22, the same time the echo of aluminum bats will fill Wilson Morgan Park, transforming Decatur into a tourist Mecca.
The NAIA softball championship will begin the onslaught of visitors May 20, as the city hosts the athletic association’s 32 elite teams. The 2009 six-day tournament generated an economic impact of $1.1 million and filled 1,965 hotel rooms, said Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau President Tami Reist.
After the softball teams and Christian music fans depart, hot air balloon enthusiasts will stream into the city for the 33rd annual Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Classic on May 29 and 30.
The last four years, the two-day event averaged an economic impact of $258,300 and filled 900 hotel rooms.
While more congested roads and longer waits at restaurants will face local residents during these 11 days in May, city businesses will benefit.
“We’re making sure the hotels remain full,” Lowman said.

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