In the months leading up to this weekend’s event, athletes flock to downtown and the Savannah River to train on what will be part of their course during the sold-out race.
“We know that people are coming throughout the year to train, so it’s not just this one weekend,” said Brinsley Thigpen, CEO of the Augusta Sports Council, which helps put on the event. “It’s a domino impact.”
Nearly 3,500 competitors registered for the triathlon and Thigpen estimates that more than 6,000 family members, spectators, volunteers and other visitors will filter into town generating about $4 million in direct visitor spending, which is based on the number of occupied overnight hotel rooms. Now in its fifth year, the event has brought about $16 million overall into the local economy in previous years.
Many hotels are already booked up, Thigpen said.
“It’s my understanding that hotels all the way out to McDuffie County feel an impact on this because they get so full so fast,” she said.
At DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, rooms started filling up immediately following last year’s Ironman, said Susan Glenn, director of sales for the 179-room hotel.
“I think the whole city is just about sold out, at least the major hotels,” she said. “We have been sold out probably since February.”
Other hotels, such as the Sheraton, Hilton Garden Inn and Holiday Inn Express, owned by the hotel development group that operates the DoubleTree also are booked solid for this weekend, Glenn said.
Another local hotel near full capacity, the Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center, will use its new Olmstead Exhibit Hall as headquarters for athlete check-in as well as other Ironman exhibits and merchandise booths.
As of mid-week, the Reynolds Street hotel was totally occupied Saturday and about 90 percent full Friday and Sunday, said vice president and general manager Darryl Leech.
“Hotels, restaurants, gas stations, you name it,” he said. “Everybody’s going to be busy.”
Business at Andy Jordan’s Bicycle Warehouse on 13th Street is steadily rolling in with bike shipments arriving from as far away as Canada and Washington state. Many athletes flying into Augusta opt to send their bikes directly to the downtown shop for inspection and tune-ups before the event, said store manager Drew Jordan.
Other competitors, including those from Brazil and Puerto Rico, prefer to personally bring in their bikes for a service.
“We get a lot of last-minute repair items,” Jordan said. “I’ve had bikes get damaged in transport and there might be some parts that may be needed to get their bike back up to speed.”
The store is also a popular spot to pick up late purchases like nutrition bars, energy drinks or equipment, Jordan said.
“During the event, we definitely see a huge increase in customer count,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it. You’ve got a lot more foot traffic coming through the store. In some cases, so much that it’s hard to keep up.”
Sandwiched in between two other popular downtown fall favorites, Arts in the Heart and the Westobou Festival, the Ironman event trails only the Masters Tournament in boosting Augusta businesses, Thigpen said.
The race is guaranteed in downtown through at least 2014, she added.
Downtown restaurants also have been preparing for an influx in customers this weekend.
Pizza Joint Manager Kayla Flaherty said they’ve increased their food and alcohol orders by 10 percent in anticipation of what could be about a 20 percent increase in revenue based on last year’s restaurant sales report.
“I know it’s going to be busy,” Flaherty said. “They’re going to be making extra dough because (the athletes) like to carb up.”