SACRAMENTO -- There was a time when if you lived in Sacramento you'd say, "At least I'm close to the Bay Area and Lake Tahoe." But these days, Sacramento is truly becoming a destination spot.
"There's more opportunity here than there ever was," said Mike Testa. "We are not a sleepy state capital anymore. We are not a 'government town.' We're an exciting city on par with a lot of other exciting cities across the country."
Testa is president and CEO of the what used to be known as the Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is now simply called Visit Sacramento.
"It's pretty exciting," he said. "You know, for a long time Sacramento's biggest draw was the Convention Center from a visitor's standpoint and certainly, that's still driving the largest segment of tourism to the market. But now there's so many more things to do."
Tourists FOX40 spoke with downtown Monday were impressed.
"Really enjoying it. It's a very walkable town," one of them said.
"You know, the biggest thing that strikes us is how friendly people are," another tourist told FOX40.
A report released this month by Dean Runyan Associates showed tourism was a $4.06 billion industry last year in the capital city. That's how much travelers spent in Sacramento, which was up 5.4% over 2017.
The Golden 1 Center and the entertainment and audience it attracts are a big part of the story. But this book has many chapters -- and it's still being written.
"You look at all the hotel construction in downtown with the Kimpton Sawyer and all of the restaurants that have been added," Testa told FOX40. "The potential for MLS coming into the market. We're about to host the NCAA Track and Field at Sac State next week, the Junior Olympics this summer. So, there's just a lot more demand in the market than there was even a couple of years ago."
FOX40 caught up with Sacramento Republic FC President Ben Gumpert at a Monday night practice. He said the team expects an answer from MLS in late July or early August as to Sacramento's bid to become a Major League Soccer city.
"Over $1.6 billion in economic development just from soccer games alone. Outside of the stadium, the stadium and the surrounding development is over a billion dollar private investment over time," Gumpert explained. "So, this is huge dollars for our city and we all want it to grow and this is a huge catalyst for our city right on the front porch, right in downtown. So, you better believe that we're excited about getting ready and building that stadium."
Lawmakers from the State Capitol were practicing side-by-side with Republic FC players Monday night.
Soon, lawmakers will play each other, north versus south, in the Capital Cup to raise money for Mercy Pedalers, a nonprofit that goes out on bikes serving the homeless. That match will be held at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Papa Murphy's Park and will be followed by Republic FC's match against Reno.
One of those lawmakers, Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, spoke with FOX40 about the exciting vibe surrounding MLS matches in Southern California, which has two teams, LA Galaxy and Los Angeles FC.
"It would be such a great thing for the Sacramento region," Sen. Allen. "It's a wonderful, exciting vibe and culture that surrounds these MLS teams. It's jovial, it's musical. There's food, there's singing, there's spirit, and it's very communal."