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College football, good food and a nice place to spend a fall afternoon: It\'s long been the city of Norman\'s tourism shtick.
College football, good food and a nice place to spend a fall afternoon: It's long been the city of Norman's tourism shtick.
As the new executive director of the Norman Convention and Visitor's Bureau, it's Stephen Koranda's job to take Norman from a cool place to tailgate to a destination place in and of itself.
Since a Dec. 1, 2008, start, Koranda has busied himself meeting the various movers and shakers in Norman. He's still living out of a suitcase, bedding down at the new, 260-room Embassy Suites Hotel and Convention Center located just north of the city. The wife and child - back at home in Olathe, Kan., with a house that remains on the market - are shooting for a springtime move to Oklahoma's third largest city.
Koranda has come to understand one thing perfectly clear after coming to the city a month before a college football national championship game.
"They like football," he deadpans. "There's sports fanatics and then there's Norman and Sooner fans."
But football games only come to town six times a year. It's the other 359 days that has Koranda racking his brain.
"We've got some groundwork we need to do to let people know Norman is not just Oklahoma Sooner football, Barry Switzer and Sam Bradford," he says.
The Sam Noble Museum of Natural History and the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art are just two cultural gems Norman has to offer, along with a host of other niche art studios and galleries.
Norman retail has seen a dramatic expansion with the development of a lifestyle mall on the university-owned tract of land north of Robinson Street and east of Interstate 35. Super Target and Pei Wei Asian Diner are surrounded by largely higher-end retail outlets. The crowning jewel is next door at the newly opened Embassy Suites.
"That is an absolute huge benefit. When I heard about that facility opening, that was one of the draws that attracted me to the position," Koranda says.
The convention center, coupled with the 1,000 hotel rooms available a few miles away at the U.S. Postal Service's National Center for Employee Development, means Norman now can compete legitimately for convention business.
Previously, Koranda served in the same capacity for the city of Olathe, Kans.
"When I talk to friends up in Kansas, and I tell them about Norman, I tell them Norman is Olathe," he says.
With 100,000-plus populations and colleges in town, the two communities are nearly identical. Both are a few miles away from a large metropolitan area (it's 19 miles from Norman to Oklahoma City, and 22 miles from Olathe to Kansas City, Mo.).
And with all due respect, Norman is looking to steal some convention business that is looking to get away from a downtown environment.
"The challenges are ... diversification of our marketing plan, building trust with some of the tourism entities in town," says Koranda, whose budget sits just under $500,000.
Ironically, in a town that's sports-crazy, he inherits no sports-marketing arm at the CVB, and says one is vital for the city to take full advantage of both the large and small sporting events occurring in town throughout the year.