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  1. Event to draw thousands, generate an estmated $750,000 in spending ROCKFORD — The City Council this week agreed to forgo nearly $50,000 in parking revenue to lure the Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses back to town after an 11-year absence. Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau President and CEO John Groh said his office went “out on a ledge” and months ago promised free parking for convention attendees to help seal the deal. Had the City Council not approved the measure Monday, the RACVB may have had to go back to event organizers, eaten the cost of parking, or gone to corporate partners to ask for help paying it. Groh said the City Council showed that Rockford values the group’s business. And he said the risk was worthwhile because of the potential economic return for the city. It is expected to draw 15,000 attendees over three weekends, generating an estimated $750,000 in spending at hotels, restaurants and venues. “Rockford has more hotel rooms and Rockford is family friendly,” Groh said. “It has museums, parks and restaurants close to the hotels. And the progress and momentum in downtown Rockford is a much different picture in terms of restaurants, shops and general vitality than it was 10 years ago.” Attendees are expected to visit from Milwaukee, Madison, Kenosha and Racine, Wisconsin, and Dubuque and Davenport, Iowa, as well as the Rockford and Chicago areas. Daily sessions of the convention — called “Don’t give up!” — are free and open to the public beginning each day at 9:20 a.m. July 28-30, Aug. 4-6 and Aug. 11-13 at the BMO Harris Bank Center, 300 Elm St. The group last met in Rockford in 2006. The event left for DeKalb — where a Spanish-language convention is still planned — when the BMO Harris Bank Center underwent renovations a decade ago. The City Council’s vote to subsidize parking shows that Rockford values the Jehovah’s Witnesses convention, said Peter Arthurs, a volunteer spokesman. The convention will feature talks, interviews, short videos and a three-part feature film, all focused on biblical advice and guidance for how those feeling discouraged can “enjoy life and gain confidence in a better future,” Arthurs said. Alderwoman Venita Hervey, D-5, was the lone “no” vote on waiving the $5 a day event parking fee that would total an estimated $48,750 for all three weekends. Hervey said the fees are there to defray the burden placed on property taxpayers for the cost of parking.
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  2. ROCKFORD — Four sports competitions and a religious convention are coming to Rockford this year and next, promising to bolster the local economy to the tune of nearly $735,000, according to the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. The Convention of Jehovah's Witnesses is returning to the BMO Harris Bank Center this summer after a 10-year hiatus, said John Groh, president and CEO of the Visitors Bureau. That event should drop about $589,500 on the region's shops, hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions. "Then they'll go home and tell their friends and family" about Rockford, Groh said during a news conference today. "While they're here, they'll certainly enhance our quality of life and our economy." The events are: America's Table Tennis Team championships: About 200 will compete May 25-28 at the UW Health Sports Factory. Athletes and their family members will need more than 400 hotel rooms stays and should generate about $76,500 for the region. American Amateur Baseball Congress World Series: Nine-, 10-, 11- and 13-and-younger leagues from Canada, Puerto Rico and the United States will compete July 21-26. This is the first year for the 9-and-younger leagues. About 5,000 players, coaches and spectators flock to Mercyhealth Sportscore Two in Loves Park, requiring 3,000 hotel room nights and generating about $360,000. North American Fast Pitch Association Masters Midwest World Series: From Sept. 8-10, about 700 players ages 35-75 will compete at Mercyhealth Sportscore One in Rockford. It will require about 300 hotel rooms and generate $135,000. Jehovah's Witness convention: July 28-30, Aug. 4-6 and Aug. 11-13. It's expected to draw about 15,000. 2018 USA Ultimate Division III College Championships: About 700 players and about 2,000 spectators will gather May 17-20, 2018, at Mercyhealth Sportscore Two. About 850 hotel room nights and an economic impact of about $162,000 is expected. And, on Friday and Saturday, the Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation youth wrestling state competition will happen at BMO. Approximately 1,000 10- to 14-year-old wrestlers will compete. Rockford is the longest-running host of the competition. "Rockford can continue to expect to have additional tournaments coming to our region," Groh said. "We're projecting anywhere from 60-plus additional tournaments per year (and) conservatively, over the next several years on an annual basis, $15 million in spending by visitors from new tournaments and new customers." Tourism and Rockford Park District officials said the tournaments were a big win for the Reclaiming First initiative to bolster sports tourism in town. "I always wanted to be somebody who could be a part of making Rockford a better place to live," said John Beck, the 12th Ward alderman who also works for the Rockford Park District. "We've got so many wonderful assets. It's really great that these organizations are recognizing what Rockford has to offer." Susan Vela: 815-987-1392; svela@rrstar.com; @susanvela
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