Landing the first and second rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, which runs March 21-23, 2019 at Wells Fargo Arena, amounted to scoring two top prizes in a few years, said Greg Edwards, president and CEO of Catch Des Moines.

“Obviously that is an event we have always had our eye on,” Edwards said. “It’s kind of a crown jewel. When we built Wells Fargo Arena, that was always the dream — when we are going to get the NCAA basketball? We did women’s volleyball, women’s basketball and wrestling and then — boom! —  we finally we got the men’s basketball.

“We knew at that point now we’ve got it, what are we going to do to make sure we really shine and let people know that we not only want these events, but we want them back,” Edwards said. “We did everything from volunteers on the streets and at the airport to greeting all eight teams at their hotels. We played their fight songs on recordings, we high-fived them — that was a big hit.  We did police escorts from the airport to the hotel. [The Kansas team] drove too but the police escorted them from the edge of town.

“People talked about how cool Des Moines was and how well run Wells Fargo is,” said Ben Handfelt, Catch Des Moines vice president of marketing.

That 2016 event brought a $3.1 million boost to the local economy. Des Moines also hosted the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight of the NCAA women’s basketball in 2012, the national wrestling championship and the outdoor track and field championships in 2013. The international Solheim Cup women’s professional golf event was staged in West Des Moines last year, drawing high-profile TV coverage.

The NCAA basketball tournaments have had a special place in the heart of many, Edwards said. “This event really does show community pride.”

Edwards noted that the NCAA tournaments are a highly visible event in Des Moines, which also holds elite track and field and soccer events. And sports aside, there are church national meetings that are drawing as many as 5,000 to town.

Learning what Des Moines has accomplished with the NCAA championship tournaments and the early round basketball rounds helps land those conventions, Edwards said.

More of 2018 Best of Des Moines results, go here.

Best Thing that will happen to Central Iowa in the Upcoming Year
Winner: NCAA Tournament returns
Runner-up: “Hamilton: An American Musical” (performed after the Best of Des Moines survey)
Runner-up: Governor’s election

Best Thing to Happen to Central Iowa in the Past Year
Winner: Solheim Cup
Runner-up: Hilton Des Moines Downtown
Runner-up: Outlets of Des Moines