While attendance at some of Spokanes longtime festivals, events, and conferences has remained steady or grown only slightly in recent years, some relatively new attractions are drawing ever bigger crowds.
Art Fest and Valleyfest are among the younger events here that have been coming on. Theyve got a ways to go, though, to achieve the popularity and sheer economic impact of events such as Bloomsday and the Spokane County Interstate Fair.
Of all the annual events here, the fair had the highest attendance last year, with 230,000 mostly Eastern Washington residents cruising past llamas in the livestock barns and munching on corndogs, says the Spokane Regional Visitors and Conventions Bureau (CVB). Yet, one of the youngest of Spokanes major events, the 13-year-old Hoopfest, landed near the top in estimated economic impact at $15 million, that organizations figures showed.
Meanwhile, Nancy Goodspeed, the CVBs public relations director, says that the demand from organizations to hold events and conferences here is strong, especially compared with larger markets, where event hosting is more expensive than in Spokane.
We havent seen too much of an impact from the sluggish economy, largely because most of the conventions we host are regional and of a smaller size, Goodspeed says. They seem to continue to move forward despite a down market.
While major cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago are struggling to fill their meeting facilities, the Spokane Convention Center is booked for all but two weeks this year, she says.
In fact, if there is one lone reason for our convention business to not show greater growth, it has been the lack of facilities, Goodspeed asserts, adding that Spokane County voters approval of a convention center expansion will help ease that problem.
The events with the strongest economic impact here usually draw a higher percentage of their attendees from outside the Spokane area than the fair or other more locally focused festivals, such as Art Fest.
The CVB estimates that visitors to Spokane County spent $497 million overall last year, providing jobs for nearly 9,000 residents, and generating $42 million in non-resident tax dollars.
To be sure, estimating economic impact is an inexact science, but typically, festival and convention attendees spend between $95 and $185 a day, Goodspeed says. To calculate economic impact, the CVB multiplies the estimated number of attendees at an event by a daily spending amount for people at that event, times the number of days that theyre in Spokane. The daily spending rate used to calculate the economic impact of a convention usually is close to $185 because the majority of the people come from outside the community and stay in hotels and motels, she says. Sponsors of some events not closely monitored by the CVB, such as festivals, use their own calculations or seek guidance from economists at universities here to assist them in estimating economic impact.
Orville Moe, owner of Spokane Raceway Park in Airway Heights, claims that the American Hot Rod Association World Finals, held annually at his racetrack since 1975, last year attracted 42,000 people who pumped $14 million to $19 million into the local economy.
Goodspeed says Moes figures for the four-day Hot Rod event sound reasonable because many of the attendees stay in hotels during the event and while here buy big-ticket items from Spokanes automotive stores.
Also large both in attendance and economic impact are two Spokane standbysBloomsday, with 80,000 runners and bystanders and an $8.1 million impact, and the Lilac Festival, with 150,000 parade attendees and an estimated $2 million impact.
Bloomsdays participation, though, has hovered around 50,000 runners during the last few years, which is about 10,000 fewer runners than in 1996 when participation peaked, says race coordinator Karen Heaps.
Its really leveled off, she says.
Attendance at the Interstate Fair was down about 1 percent last year compared with 2001s fair, which was under way when terrorists attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11.
Conventions usually have lower attendance levels than festivals, but often pack a greater economic punch because typically theyre spread out over more days and draw more people from outside of the area, who spend money on hotels and car rentals, as well as dining. For example, about 1,800 people attend a four-day conference held here every May by the weight-loss organization TOPS Club Inc., and last year they had an estimated economic impact of about $830,000, which was just $45,000 less than the estimated economic impact of First Night, Spokanes new New Years Eve celebration, which was attended by 23,000.
Spokane has grown into a popular place to hold religious conferences, Goodspeed says. Three of the top 30 most attended and economically stimulative events here, based on CVB estimates, are sponsored by the Healing Rooms Ministries, the Greater Spokane Association of Evangelicals, and the Daughery Summer Conference. Together, those events draw more than 8,000 people annually and have a combined estimated economic impact of about $3 million.
Religious groups are attracted to the campus-like layout of downtown Spokane, Goodspeed says. They often use Riverfront Park, the Opera House, and the Convention Center for their gatherings, rather than confining their conferences to a single hotel, as they might do in a bigger city, she says.
Theyre nonprofits, and for them to go to a big city where its more expensive would be tough, Goodspeed says.
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