It’s a little like finding out there is a giant fish lying behind that spot where you cast your bait but now you’ve got a tangle in your line and that big bruiser is just sitting out there — unattainable.

News that an ongoing dispute between the city and a group of hoteliers over the Tourism Improvement District cost Tulsa the chance to host the 2021 Bassmaster Classic came as a disappointment to area fans and officials.

Most didn’t know the Classic was coming in the first place because Tulsa was one of several in contention and no announcement had been made. Now that the word is out, people just want to see the city hurry up and get its lines untangled so it can make another cast, so to speak.

“We hadn’t been brought in on anything about the Classic yet,” said Grove City Manager Bill Keefer. “In 2016 it was about a year before the event, after agreements were finalized with (Tulsa), that we were brought in.”

Grand Lake and the city of Grove have been partners in the past two Classic events — in February 2013 and March 2016 — and the economic benefits and international reputation gained for the lake and surrounding towns paid off in added tourism and tournament fishing interest year after year at Grove in addition to the rewards reaped by Tulsa.

“We had been told a long time ago that there was interest in the Classic returning and that it was tied to completion of improvements to the Cox (Business) Center that would have accommodated them with more space, but we had not been notified of a date,” Keefer said.

“This was really disappointing to see, but we’ll hope that the opportunity presents itself again. It was a great event and a fantastic experience for everybody.”

BASS CEO Bruce Akin affirmed that Tulsa is still on a favored list for hosting the granddaddy of all bass fishing tournaments again someday.

“Whether it was our first Oklahoma-hosted Classic in 2013 or the Elite Series and Central Open tournaments this year, BASS has always enjoyed a great relationship with both Tulsa and the state of Oklahoma as well as fantastic fan support,” said Akin. “While there are a variety of communities in contention to host this iconic event, it’s disappointing that Tulsa had to withdraw their bid to host the 2021 Bassmaster Classic from consideration. We hope to partner again in the future.”

The past two Classic events each saw attendance from across the country that numbered well over 100,000 and brought economic impact gauged in the range of $23 million.

The 2020 Classic is the 50th Anniversary event and is set for Birmingham, Alabama. The 2019 event in March at Knoxville, Tennessee, was recognized as the 2019 Champion of Economic Impact in Sports Tourism (Mid-Market Division) by Sports Destination Management for record attendance of 153,809 spectators and an economic impact of more than $32 million in that area.

The city of Tulsa estimates it has lost an estimated $292,500 each month it hasn’t collected revenue from the Tourism Improvement District. Revenue hasn’t been collected since June 25, when District Judge Linda Morrissey issued a temporary injunction in a lawsuit brought by a group of Tulsa hoteliers.

The city of Tulsa offered a statement in support of the improvement district through the Mayor’s Office.

“The purpose of the (Tulsa Improvement District) is to position Tulsa to be more competitive in bringing world-class events to our city and to generate new opportunities for local businesses that support those events,” it stated.

The Bassmaster Classic isn’t the only world championship tournament out there anymore, either.

Tulsa is home to Major League Fishing, with its Bass Pro Tour and Redcrest Championship. Oklahoma angler Edwin Evers, the same man who won the 2016 Bassmaster Classic at Tulsa, won the inaugural Redcrest tournament held at LaCrosse, Wisconsin, in late August.

The MLF, which features the top 80 anglers in the sport — most of whom competed in the 2016 Classic — has its eye on Tulsa for an event, too.

“We have been watching this issue closely because obviously we’re very interested and would love to bring an event to Tulsa. It’s my hometown and is our company headquarters,” said MLF President and CEO Jim Wilburn. “We would hope this gets resolved quickly. It (a tourism improvement district) is a model we’ve seen work well in other cities we have worked with, and hopefully they get it done in time for us to bring a big event here. We just hope it doesn’t go on and on.”

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Kelly Bostian


Twitter: @KellyBostian

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