BY CHAD CALDER
Advocate business writer
July 16, 2012
The U.S. Bowling Congress ended its five-month tournament in Baton Rouge on Tuesday, and while the precise figures won’t be available for another two months, local officials and business owners said the tournament was a boon for hotels, casinos and some restaurants and cultural attractions in the area.
Earlier this year, Mayor-President Kip Holden said the tournament was expected to pump about $90 million into the local economy, with a good portion of that flowing to city-parish coffers through taxes collected on rental cars, casinos, hotels and sales.
This year’s attendance for the USBC Open Championships was down about 7 percent from 2005, the last year the tournament was held in Baton Rouge. But Paul Arrigo, president and chief executive officer of Visit Baton Rouge, the local convention and visitors bureau, said he thinks new development, particularly downtown, coaxed more money out of the wallets of roughly 60,000 bowlers and their families.
“This is just my opinion, but since 2005 there has been more development in the areas where they could spend time and money — more restaurants, hotels and attractions,” he said. “The hotels have been very, very happy; the restaurants have been very, very happy.”
Brian Lewis, the USBC’s managing director of tournaments, said the lower attendance reflects the woes of the national economy, noting that the congress’ last few tournaments have been down. He said there were 13,000 five-person teams when the tournament was held here in 2005, about a thousand more than this year.
“The city has again rolled out the red carpet to the bowlers and the bowlers have responded,” Lewis said.
“All in all, the feedback we’ve gotten from the bowlers is how much they like Baton Rouge and Louisiana and how they’ve been treated by the city. We were all very pleased.”
Arrigo said the Mayor’s Office will make an announcement in about eight weeks with the economic impact and sales tax collections figures, though the numbers so far are encouraging.
Retail spending based on city-parish sales tax collection figures were up 8 percent in February, 7 percent March and 9 percent in April from year-ago statistics.
Arrigo said tax collections from hotels were up 16 percent in February, 35 percent in March, 32 percent in April and 30 percent in May.
“It’s been extremely beneficial, revenue-wise, for the hotels,” said Gary Jupiter, manager of Springhill Suites Baton Rouge North and president of the Baton Rouge Lodging Association. “Speaking of my hotel and speaking with other general managers, we couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome.”
Jupiter and others said guests weren’t just staying in hotels and eating in restaurants while they were bowling, but also visiting plantation homes with families and hitting local golf courses.
The only down note, he said, was several bowlers mentioned traffic congestion in the city.
Jupiter said that while downtown hotels were popular because of their proximity to the convention center, competitors and their families stayed in hotels throughout the city, particularly in the College Drive area and near the airport.
“I didn’t know what to expect about how many people we’d get out in our area, but we housed three or four teams a week out here,” he said. “It was a continuous flow.”
Davis Rhorer, executive director of the Downtown Development District, said downtown restaurants have seen increases in business.
He said his office put out a visitors guide and he spent several Sunday afternoons helping visitors find the downtown restaurants and attractions that are open. He pointed out the walkability of downtown is an important draw for conventions like the USBC and the upcoming International Planetarium Society Association Society convention.
With downtown’s fourth hotel under construction, the continued push to make downtown a 24/7 destination is as important as ever, he said.
Restaurants outside of downtown, but close to hotels, felt the impact as well.
“This was an incredible experience for me and I was shocked with the number of restaurateurs who had the same experience,” said Jim Urdiales, owner of Mestizo on South Acadian Thruway. “It was anywhere from a 10 to 20 percent increase each month they were here. It was phenomenal. We did not go a single day without a bowler, and they were very excited to be here.”
But Urdiales said the impact was hit or miss when it comes to restaurants. Some he talked to in the Perkins Road overpass area, for example, didn’t see much impact at all.
In the cluster of restaurants around Mestizo — including T.J. Ribs and Outback Steakhouse — sales were up dramatically, he said.
Arrigo said some of the better known local restaurants, including The Chimes and Acme Oyster House, reported seeing a boost from bowlers.
Urdiales noted that the last time the tournament was in town, his restaurant was located on Sherwood Forest and didn’t see a single bowler.
“I am going to miss them very, very much,” he said.
Lewis noted the USBC employed close to 100 local workers putting on the tournament.
“Baton Rouge has a very strong bowling community and we were able to pull from it to help us operate our tournament,” he said.
Outside of its Nevada tournaments in Las Vegas and Reno, Baton Rouge is the next choice for the tournament’s bowlers, he said.
“Bowlers seem to like Baton Rouge,” he said. “It’s easy to get to and there’s a lot of things to do.”
Lewis said crews will spend the next 10 days dismantling the lanes and other $1.5 million in infrastructure it put in for the tournament. The USBC is working with Habitat for Humanity to put the wood and other materials to good use.
He said the USBC and the city have been “talking specifics” about Baton Rouge hosting another tournament.
“There’s interest there,” he said. “It’s a very good fit for USBC. The River Center is a good facility for us.”
To get the tournament this time around, the city-parish and Visit Baton Rouge contributed $1.1 million, while the state put in $40,000 and businesses and trade groups put in $400,000.