PROVO — In a game to be named America's Best Place to Live, Provo has reached the Sweet 16 and is going for a total upset.
Outside magazine has turned to its readers again to decide on the best town in America for 2014. This year, it created a bracket like the ones used in March Madness. Voters can choose one town per round.
Provo won a pair of its matchups, advancing to round three in a move that mirrored the performance of the BYU women's basketball team in March's NCAA tournament. For round three, the city is up against Missoula, Montana. Provo and its mayor have updated their websites to point people to Outside magazine's bracket and encourage them to vote.
The town has beaten the odds already in this competition. A No. 16 seed has never won a matchup in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, which shows the high probability of Provo dropping out early. Provo, however, has hung on. The No. 16 seed came in like a lion, beating No. 1 Jackson, Wyoming, in the first round.
"Provo was such a surprise coming out of the first round, which is great. I'm thrilled that they did because, you know, Jackson's very predictable," said Jonah Ogles, the magazine's associate editor. "It's always nice to see towns kind of come out of nowhere, come from behind."
If Provo were to win, it would be the second year in a row that a Utah town topped Outside's best places list. Last year the prize went to Park City.
“We hope that other cities in Utah see this as an opportunity really for the whole state, not just Provo, and get behind us and help us vote to keep advancing,” Provo Mayor John Curtis said.
He said the city has a lot to offer, including its close proximity to recreation — such as hiking in Rock Canyon, boating in Utah Lake and world-class trout fishing in the Provo River. It is also home to Brigham Young University and next door to Orem, home of Utah Valley University. Recent years have seen the emergence of a budding music scene in the city, including the Rooftop Concert Series and with bands like Fictionist, Neon Trees and Imagine Dragons hailing from the town.
Provo is "kind of a Cinderella team coming in here and proving that we can do this," Curtis said.
The selection method for which towns make the original list is less-than-scientific. Ogles and other editors reached out to outdoor enthusiasts for their feedback of where they thought their dream town would be. They considered recreation, unemployment, median income, home prices, farmer's markets and other factors.
They selected Provo because of its proximity to recreation and its dual ranking with Orem as having the highest level of reported well-being in the country.
Provo is no stranger to awards: This year, Forbes ranked Provo as the No. 10 best place in the nation to raise a family; USA Today featured the city as a vacation destination; SpareFoot ranked Provo as the No. 1 fastest growing of six on-the-rise start-up hubs; and Livingsocial.com put Provo on the top of its list for nicest cities.
Missoula native Wes Larson lived in Provo off and on for eight years. Although he loves Provo, he said he would "probably vote for Missoula." He appreciates his hometown's downtown, its farmers market, live music and closeness to recreation.
"For someone who kind of likes to get out and backpack and hike and whatnot, I think it's just a lot more accessible in Missoula," he said.
He also has noticed more of a "community" connection between Missoula residents and students at the University of Montana than there is between Provo residents and BYU students.
The two cities are locked in a tight competition. As of late Wednesday, Provo was a little more than 600 points ahead.
Ogles said he is certain betting is not allowed in Provo, but if he were a betting man, he would put his money on Duluth, Minnesota, to win the entire competition "solely because they've had more votes in every single round than any other town."
To make things interesting, he said he would like to see some other city beat Duluth.
"I hope Provo keeps advancing and people keep turning out for it," he said.
Curtis encouraged those who have already voted to return to vote each round. Not only will this help the city continue to move up the ranks, but it will also bring attention to what the city and state have to offer.
"In my mind it's hard to beat what we have here along the Wasatch Front," he said.
To vote, visit voteprovo.com, which will take you to the magazine's website.