COLUMBUS — Columbus isn’t going to compete with venues in Lincoln or Omaha for big-name entertainment.
But that doesn’t mean the city can’t offer sports, performing arts and other events that keep local residents busy and bring in out-of-towners who spend money at local hotels, restaurants and gas stations.
“We don’t want the locals to have to go somewhere else for something that we could do here,” said Lynelle Schrunk, who is at the center of a joint effort to boost entertainment and tourism opportunities in Columbus and Platte County.
Schrunk started her job this week as Columbus sports and activities director, a position created by the city and Columbus/Platte County Convention and Visitors Bureau to coordinate event planning and keep the local activities schedule filled year-round.
“It’s an opportunity to think outside the box,” said Doug Moore, the city’s public property director, adding that Columbus must find its “niche” in the entertainment market.
The city already hosts a number of youth sports tournaments each year, so Schrunk will be tasked with generating ideas that aren’t so obvious.
Competitions using the new FlowRider at Pawnee Plunge Water Park, adult swim meets at Columbus Aquatic Center and a local version of the Junk Jaunt are possibilities.
“We’re going to have to take some chances ... to try to make an impact,” said Schrunk, who previously worked as an administrative assistant in the Central Community College-Columbus athletic department.
Her background in community relations and marketing — Schrunk spent time as a grant writer for Northeast Nebraska Economic Development District in Norfolk — will be an asset while serving as a bridge between the city, visitors bureau and local businesses.
“It’s a natural partnership because the city has facilities that we can use for events,” said Deb Loseke, director of the visitors bureau.
The city and visitors bureau will both chip in $20,000 this year to fund the position, with the amount decreasing to $15,000 in Year 2 and $10,000 each in Year 3.
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The goal, Moore said, is to create a full-time position that’s self-funded through grants and financial support from local businesses and other sponsors. Fundraising also could be used to help lure events to Columbus and promote the area.
“We can take this position as big as we want it, which is the goal,” said Schrunk, whose first priority is establishing a local council that will help guide her work.
That group — the Columbus Sports and Activities Council — will include representatives from the city, county and local schools, as well as those involved with youth sports and the arts.
Norfolk used a similar structure when establishing its Norfolk Area Sports Council about four years ago.
That organization, which is funded by the city’s visitors bureau and local sponsors, has helped bring events such as the Nebraska School Activities Association State Play Production Championships, gymnastics, horseshoes, archery and dance events to Norfolk.
“It’s not just sports. It’s thinking outside the box,” said Kim Kwapnioski, executive director of the Norfolk Area Visitors Bureau.
Although Norfolk and Columbus can be considered competitors for regional events, Kwapnioski views the addition of another sports and activities council as a positive for northeast Nebraska.
“I think it will do the whole area very well, because we’ve definitely seen it,” she said, noting that hotel occupancy rates and lodging tax revenues are up in recent years.
“We don’t have Mount Rushmore in our backyard, so we have to find opportunities to bring people to our communities,” Kwapnioski said.
Schrunk’s office is located on the second floor at City Hall, 2424 14th St. She can be reached by phone at 402-562-4234 and email at email@example.com.