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Raleigh Embraces NHL All-Star Game

Photo: Dave DeWitt align=left

Raleigh hosts the NHL All-Star Game this weekend. It comes at a time when the city is in need of some positive publicity, as North Carolina Public Radio's Dave DeWitt reports. If you are in the business of selling Raleigh to decision-makers across the country, the people who might move a company or bring their annual conference to your town, this has not been a good few months. National media outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post have visited Raleigh and then published stories about a community in turmoil over its public school system. That prompted responses spanning the political and media spectrum, from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to comedian Stephen Colbert. Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce President Harvey Schmidt says it's had an effect. "The reality is regardless of where you stand on the issue locally that external media can shape perceptions," he said. The NHL All Star game comes to Raleigh this weekend, bringing with it an economic impact somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million. But the importance goes beyond direct spending on hotel rooms and in restaurants. "This is just about as big as its going to get for Raleigh. This is a big one," says Scott Dupree, vice president for sports marketing at the Raleigh Visitors Bureau. "Folks around the country and around the world and its televised in more than 150 nations, will see a major international sporting event unfolding from Raleigh, televised from Raleigh and the RBC Center," Dupree said. "And they may be thinking if Raleigh. . . if that city can host NHL All-Star weekend, maybe it can host my event." The city of Raleigh will spend around $400,000 to stage the event, but that's only a fraction of the commitment city leaders have made. Eight years ago, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman promised Raleigh it could host the All-Star game, but only if it built a convention center and at least a four-star hotel. It was a single comment that sparked a significant transformation in downtown Raleigh over the past decade. "Well, the commissioner's request for better facilities and better hotels has been in the background," said Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker. "You know, that wasn't the main reason we built the convention center. And of course, it's not the main economic reason for the new hotels. But it's one of the factors out there and I think people recognize having those facilities is good for us including having the all-star game." Mayor Meeker disagrees with critics who say the convention center was a waste of $225 million, even if the money came from taxes on visitors to hotels and restaurants. But most everyone agrees that the event is coming at just the right time for an emerging city. Harvey Schmitt, with the Chamber of Commerce, says Raleighites will have to get used to taking the good with the bad. "And I think the reality is we're a big market, and in big markets you have a lot of stories going on, and they're not always going in the same direction." When the NHL All-Star game starts on Sunday afternoon and TVs across the world tune in and see Raleigh in its dressed-up best, it may help bring some pride back to a city that has lately taken its lumps.