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Organizers trumpet Baltimore Grand Prix success
Initial data suggest that last weekend’s inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix auto race may have boosted area hotel revenues by 44 percent over last year’s Labor Day weekend.

VisitBaltimore on Thursday announced the preliminary numbers, which were generated by Forward Analytics. More than 100,000 tickets were sold for the race.

The early figures reflect responses from 11 hotels encompassing 3,000 rooms, including one near the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

As city officials await a full economic report that is to be released by Oct. 1, several in the business community said they were enthused about the race’s first year.

“We managed to have a full house Saturday and close Friday,” said Ashley Browner, sales manager for the Holiday Inn Express. “At first, we were a bit skeptical, but surprisingly traffic wasn’t that bad.”

Revenues at the Hilton Baltimore were up 250 percent from a year earlier, said Thomas Noonan, CEO of VisitBaltimore, adding that the hotel wasn’t among the 11 surveyed. The Hyatt Regency Baltimore also was up 100 percent in room sales, he said.

Besides higher occupancy, hotel rates were up about $100 per night over last year, Noonan said.

Rates fluctuated prior to the race, with hoteliers first raising rates in anticipation and then lowering them when expectations were not met — before raising them again over the weekend.

“None of us knew what the length of stay was going to be. This was the first time,” Noonan said, adding that hoteliers will have a better idea on how to price rooms for next year’s race.

Maryland officials have promoted the race as likely to generate up to $70 million in economic impact. Baltimore Racing Development spent more than $3 million helping companies and contractors prepare for the race.

In comparison, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama has generated its host city of Birmingham $33 million in each of its two years, said David Galbaugh, director of sports, sales and marketing for that city.

He said the money is significant, even if it didn’t grow year-over-year, and he called the race “a great economic boost for the whole community.”

Birmingham signed a new sponsorship deal with Honda in March to continue the race for the next three years.

“We really enjoy having it,” Galbaugh said.

‘A lot of new friends’

“I can’t wait until next year,” said Alan Morstein, owner of Regi’s American Bistro in Baltimore, which saw a 20 percent sales increase from last year. “We made a lot of new friends that we hope will come back.”

He compared the crowds over the weekend with the Restaurant Week promotions that many jurisdictions hold in the summer, saying he had about 1,740 guests throughout the weekend.

“The media scared the locals from coming down, but we had a lot of out-of-towners discover or rediscover the city,” Morstein said.

Morton’s The Steakhouse sold more than 1,300 steak sandwiches at the race course and the Kona Grill had one of its best days in the chain’s history, Noonan said.

Although locals stayed away from areas such as HarborEast and Little Italy, Ciao Bella served more diners than he expected, said executive chef Gary Hawkings. He said everyone throughout Little Italy put out tables and booths to attract race spectators. While Ciao Bella usually sees about 125 patrons on Friday of Labor Day weekend and 175 on that Saturday, this year brought in 175 on Friday and 225 on Saturday, Hawkings said.

“Maybe next year, we’ll be more prepared for it and start promoting stuff all week long,” he said.

Overall, restaurant impact was hit or miss, Noonan said.

The takeaway is that Baltimore tourism will have to do a better job of marketing for the restaurants next year, he said.

VisitBaltimore also used the opportunity to woo convention planners that could generate more than $100 million in business, Noonan said. VisitBaltimore entertained the group in one of the trackside pavilions.

“Who knew we could do this kind of event in Baltimore?” Noonan said. “I think the future races will do even better.” Baltimore Gazette

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