Games to provide $1 million boost to Billings economy

2012-05-14T08:00:00Z 2012-05-15T16:31:27Z Games to provide $1 million boost to Billings economyBy ZACH BENOIT The Billings Gazette

When the 1,000 athletes and as many as 1,500 family members, friends and coaches flood into Billings for the 2010 Special Olympics Montana State Summer Games this month, they won't just bring along their competitive spirit.

They'll also bring money to be spent in town, adding an estimated $1.2 million into the Billings economy from May 15-18.

"There'll definitely be an incredible impact to the community," said John Brewer, president and CEO of the Billings Chamber of Commerce. "It's pretty safe to say there's going to be 2,000 people in town for three days, conservatively, and if they spend $200 a day, that's a $1.2 million impact."

Pete Olson, SOMT's vice president of sports and competition, said businesses and visitors are already gearing up, especially since Billings is a regional shopping hub, for the games.

"Billings is a destination in Montana," he said. "Billings is our big city. If you've tried to book a hotel room in Billings for the time during the games, you know how many people will be here for this. It's a significant amount."

Steve Wahrlich, the games' co-chair and co-owner of the Best Western Clocktower Inn, said he's looking forward to the games on a personal level, as well as from a business perspective.

"As a hotelier, it's great," he said. "With anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 people here in the middle of May, it's not bad for the economy."

While it starts with the hotel rentals, the real impact likely will be spread out from there, Brewer said.

With Billings being a shopping destination in the area, many families and visitors are likely to hit up retail and shopping centers on a regular basis to pick up goods they might not be able to get at home.

While that business will be scattered around town, members of the Downtown Billings Alliance are getting ready for what they hope will be a midweek boost in visitors and customers during the games.

"This is really drawing those out-of-town folks in," said Lisa Harmon, the group's executive director. "They're intrigued by what we have downtown."

The DBA plans to put out an information booth, complete with walking maps, to help people navigate the area. Harmon said there is a discussion about having merchants put up signs welcoming the Special Olympics groups as well.

"We want them to provide a welcoming message that says, 'Hey we've planned for you to be there,'" she said. "We know we're going to get some of that business and that a lot of people like to see that boutique feel and that diversity downtown offers, so we want them to feel welcome."

Plus, they have to eat. While many of the meals for the athletes are covered, those out shopping or relaxing until specific events are likely to visit Billings restaurants.

Bob Norbie, SOMT's president and CEO said that it's also a chance for the town show off and make an impression on visitors, upping the chance of repeat customers.

"Billings will shine," he said. "I guarantee you that it will shine throughout these games."



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