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KNOXVILLE — The world’s largest creative competition for students signed a contract Thursday with the University of Tennessee that is expected to bring more than 15,000 people to Knoxville each summer until 2006.

Destination ImagiNation Inc., which runs the international creative and problem-solving program of the same name, inked a pact with UT officials in ceremonies on the site where Knoxville’s new convention center is under construction.

“We are extremely pleased that Destination ImagiNation has decided to commit its yearly final competition to the university and our community,” said Dr. Loren Crabtree, UT provost. “DI has been a welcome guest in the past, and we’re eager to continue our relationship.”

The 2001 competition brought 8,000 students and 7,000 parents and supporters to UT’s Knoxville campus in May, said Dr. Bob Leiter, dean of UT Outreach and Continuing Education. Each event will draw an estimated 15,000 people for 4.5 days, which amounts to 67,500 visitor-days for Knox County, with an estimated economic impact over six years of $80 million to $100 million, he said.

“DI’s economic presence is a prime example of the value and impact that the educational market can have on Knoxville’s meeting industry,” said Michael Carrier, president and CEO of the Knoxville Convention and Visitors Bureau. “That decision is based in part on the availability of our new convention center.”

The organization had already scheduled the event in Knoxville for 2002 and 2003. The current contract extends that commitment for three more years.

“DI’s decision to return to the same city for six consecutive years is unprecedented,” Leiter said. “UT is the only site ever to host the event two years in a row, much less six years.”

Crabtree said the university benefits additionally because of the students, teachers and parents who are exposed to UT’s Knoxville campus during their stay.

In addition to the 2001 competition, UT hosted finals in 1991, 1995 and 1999, when the organization was called OM Association, Inc.

The Destination ImagiNation program bills itself as the world’s largest competition to foster creativity, problem-solving and teamwork among children and young people. Some 200,000 people drawn from 47 states and 15 countries and Canadian provinces participate in the year-long program.