Several of the biggest names in basketball are part of the North Augusta scene each year in July, and the popularity of the Nike Peach Jam has created a variety of challenges for the massive tournament's organizers, with plenty of attention going to parking.
Rick Meyer, director of the North Augusta Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, is among those wrestling with questions about how Riverview Park can best handle thousands of mid-summer visitors, including the NCAA's top coaches, prominent NBA players and dozens of blue-chip players from around the country.
Meyer laughingly chose the expression "taxed to the max" to describe this year's parking situation, acknowledging that basketball teams have been carefully tended over the 24 years of the tournament's history, and the 2019 situation involved an all-time high of 54 teams – each one getting valet parking.
"We have to keep getting innovative," he said, confirming that the Peach Jam is "not getting any smaller."
Changes in 2019 included adding designated parking for "the large number of volunteers that we had," in the same arrangement as NCAA coaches have had over the years, Meyer said. Adjustments were also made to accommodate officials, who face a deadline in terms of game schedules.
A helpful step in 2019, Meyer said, was the use of a city trolley. "We ran it from entrance to entrance … and just picked up folks who were having to park a long distance away, and brought them up to the traffic circle and let them off, so they wouldn't have to walk as far," he said, citing the stretch between West Buena Vista Avenue and San Salvador Drive.
That same trolley is normally used to help with events at SRP Park, and is also available for rental for such events as weddings.
"What a good problem to have," said Karl Waldhauer, superintendent of parks, recreation and tourism. "The popularity of the tournament is multiplying every year and we're certainly … excited to have an event that's so popular that we have to think of ways to get folks around the park."
The event provides a welcome boost for local businesses, Waldhauer confirmed, citing the examples of gas stations, restaurants and hotels. Crowne Plaza, in particular, was a new part of this year's equation, as a brand-new luxury hotel a few yards from the Savannah River.
The number of players and coaches was so large, one volunteer recalled, that one evening's food production included grilling 1,400 beef patties for the hamburgers that were offered as part of that evening's options – "more than ever," he said.
A municipal employee, speaking anonymously, described the 2019 parking arrangement as "about the same" and "always packed." He added, "I usually receive more compliments (than complaints) about the way it is run compared to other venues."
The Rev. Roy Kiser, representing First Baptist Church of North Augusta, as part of this year's volunteer crew, commented on one of the tournament's most popular features. "The peaches this year were beyond delicious," he said, referring to a 40-box donation from Titan Farms, in Ridge Spring. "Just exceptional."