The wait is over, March Madness fans.
Eight NCAA Division I men's basketball teams will arrive in town in a few days. And, in less than a week, about 14,000 fans will be watching first and second round NCAA tournament games in Greenville's Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
Greenville's first and second round games will bring a flurry of excitement and activity to town and the timing couldn't be better as the city also kicks off its annual outdoor festival season on Wednesday.
Furman University and the Southern Conference are hosting the tournament as it returns to Greenville for the first time since 2002.
First round games are on Friday, followed by second round match-ups next Sunday. Tickets to the games went on sale late last year, and despite the mystery surrounding who might take the court at The Well, thousands have already made plans to be here. VisitGreenvilleSC predicts an economic impact of $3.62 million for the city.
The 2017 games were moved to Greenville after the NCAA decided to pull postseason play from North Carolina over the state's controversial House Bill 2. A Greenville committee already are in the process of bidding for future tournament games when the opportunity to host this year opened. Mike Buddie, Director of Intercollegiate Athletics at Furman University worked alongside officials with the Southern Conference, The Well and VisitGreenvilleSC to ensure that Greenville was ready to host on short notice and the bid was submitted.
“Honestly, the way we pitched to the NCAA was Greenville is a destination city and everybody who lives here is welcoming and inclusive and we love hosting visitors," Buddie said.
There already are signs of the tournament coming to town. NCAA March Madness banners are hanging from utility poles around downtown, a court featuring the famous Furman "F" diamond will be constructed inside The Well on Sunday, a free transportation schedule is set and related events already are on the calendar.
VisitGreenvilleSC and the City of Greenville plan to fill the Saturday gap between games with a Greenville Fan Fest event. They'll transform the open area in front of Courtyard Marriott, used annually for Ice on Main, into fan central from noon until 5 p.m. Saturday. The event will feature food trucks, youth basketball contests and various vendors. More details on vendors and guests will be released early next week. The free Fan Fest will also include a viewing area for the games being played in other cities across the country.
Fans and locals alike will be able to enjoy live music in NOMA Square on Thursday and Friday nights as Downtown Alive and Heritage Main Street Fridays kick off.
Fans who want to take a running tour of Greenville's downtown can sign up to participate in the St. Paddy's Day Dash & Bash on Saturday morning. The 5K and kids' fun run begins just outside of Fluor Field and heads down S. Main Street and Broad Streets before winding back around to Fluor Field for live music, a costume contest, a variety of vendors and a silent auction.
Michelle Stoudemire with VisitGreenvilleSC said the buzz and excitement surrounding the tournament prove something about the city.
"It just continues to reinforce that we are a destination that’s reached a place where we are viable hosts for events like this."
Despite a 15 year drought in tournament games, Greenville already has a good hosting reputation with the league, Buddie said.
"When we hosted in 2002, the NCAA gave really positive feedback to the city and the local organizing committee, which made us feel really good. I wasn't here back then, but everybody has said the difference between 2016 and 2017 Greenville is night and day from 2002 Greenville," Buddie said. “So if they had a really good experience in 2002, I think they’re going to be blown away by what Greenville can provide in 2017.”
Buddie said the committee behind Greenville's tournament bids hopes the NCAA's 2017 experience leads to future opportunities, but they're leaning on locals to impress the 14,000 visitors and the NCAA.
“Really, what we’re counting on is the people of Greenville continuing to act as they always do, which is embracing outsiders.”
For those interested in going to the games, tickets are still available through Ticketmaster.