City sees influx of visitors for WNIT Championship
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City sees influx of visitors for WNIT Championship

Saturday, the city of Vermillion swelled in size as thousands of people descend upon it to see the USD women’s basketball team take on Florida Gulf Coast University in the WNIT Championship game.

This is the first year Vermillion has hosted a game that is the size and scope of the WNIT final game.

John Prescott, the city manager of Vermillion who oversees the day to day running of the city, said he was surprised when he learned that Vermillion was picked to host the game last week.

“Going into last night there were some pretty big schools that were a part of this,” he said Friday. “I think it goes back to the fan support that’s been there throughout the season and the WNIT Tournament. It’s made a statement that if the game is here, then people will be here.”

Prescott said the game was a chance not only to showcase USD athletics, but Vermillion as a whole on a national level.

“It’s good in the sense of bringing people to town. It’ll probably be a nice boost too for our restaurants and probably our hotels,” he said. “The weather looks favorable and people might be tailgating which might carry (business) over to the grocery stores. I think we’ll see significant activity downtown as well, either before or after the games people might go to some of the stores.”

In order to accommodate the influx of people, Nate Welch, the director of the Vermillion Area Chamber & Development Company, said free shuttle buses ran from the downtown area to the DakotaDome throughout the day.

“That allows not only that general parking around the Dome but now it provides people the opportunity to say ‘hey let’s just park downtown where it’s less congested. Let’s check out some shops, let’s get something to eat, we’ll jump in the shuttle, we’ll go and get dropped off right by the Dome and then we’ll jump back on the shuttle after the game and come back downtown,’” he said.

Welch said the mid-afternoon game might bring people to Vermillion business both before and after the game.

“Right when you get down to those businesses, they’re excited about the amount of people that are coming,” he said. “They’re coming right in the middle of the day and that’s a great opportunity for those people to come experience Vermillion and those businesses both before and after the game.”

It’s not only businesses and city administrators that prepared for Saturday’s game. The Vermillion Police Department had three times the number of officers patrolling the city from about 3 p.m. to 3 a.m.

Matt Betzen, the chief of the VPD, said there was about 6 officers on duty, as opposed to the regularly scheduled two.

“We’re planning on increasing staff. It’s between double and triple for the early afternoon to the evening,” he said. “Everyone is excited about this so the hardest problem I have is getting people to work because everyone wants to go to the game.”

Betzen said officers were on the lookout for alcohol-relate violations and wanted to keep visitor and game-goers safe while allowing them to enjoy the day’s event.

“We’re basically going to saturate the area and try to keep people safe,” he said. “Unfortunately, historically we’ve shown that when these types of events happen there’s also usually an increase in alcohol-related events and potentially (violence), so we’re going to make sure we have enough officers out to deal with any issues that may come up and hopefully keep everyone safe.”