The Ironman triathlon makes by far the greatest contribution, estimated at $4 million.
Last weekend’s Arts in the Heart of Augusta festival was expected to bring in about $70,000, and the upcoming Westobou Festival is forecast to generate more than $80,000 in visitor spending.
Economic impact is calculated by multiplying the number of expected guests by the amount each visitor is expected to spend. Each Ironman athlete is expected to spend $1,250 and bring two people, according to Brinsley Thigpen, the chief executive officer of the Augusta Sports Council.
“They’re eating in our restaurants, buying our gas, shopping in our bike stores, staying in our hotels,” she said.
These events are not only generating revenue for local businesses, but also are saving taxpayers money.
Barry White, the executive director of the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau, said all of Augusta’s events and tourism save each household in Richmond County $498 in taxes each year.
“These visitors are temporary taxpayers,” he said. “They’re paying for services that they don’t even use – our schools, roads, highways.”
The events come with little to no cost on Augusta’s part, White said. Westobou is sponsored by the Porter Fleming Foundation, and the Ironman is managed by the Augusta Sports Council and World Triathlon Corp.
Although Thigpen could not discuss the exact terms of the Ironman contract, she said the sports council is responsible for local tasks such as securing venues.
“It’s minimal support to see a return of $4 million, for example,” White said. “Most of them, we don’t shell out anything.”
Local businesses, especially those downtown, see a concentrated pickup in traffic in September that is hard to beat any other time of the year.
“We almost had our busiest day of the year last year during September,” said William Harrison, the owner of The Boll Weevil Cafe and Sweetery.
Ironman weekend is especially a busy time, and the Boll Weevil benefits from being near the Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center, Harrison said.
“The hotel brings in a lot of out-of-town guests, but we see more locals in, too, during things like Westobou,” he said.
Andy Jordan’s Bicycle Warehouse is one local niche business that benefits from the Ironman competition, and not just during race weekend.
“The residual effect is even greater than just the weekend,” said store manager Drew Jordan. “Many people will see someone doing the race and think ‘If they can do it, so can I.’”
Andy Jordan’s offers a bike-shipping service in which out-of-town athletes can ship their bikes to the store and have them assembled and shipped back for a fee. Store employees will work as volunteers on the race course, helping athletes today with any mishaps or equipment issues.
The more events the city has, White said, the more likely it is to attract tourists.
If Augustans want to keep events such as the Ironman race and Westobou – and bring more to the area – White said they should be generous with the Southern hospitality.
“People want to come where they’re welcome, and where it’s clean and safe,” he said. “Be nice, be welcoming and treat them as you would a guest in your house.”