GP to rev up Long Beach business

It's no coincidence that the opening of The Auld Dubliner nine years ago occurred before the start of the annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

"It was specifically timed so we could get the doors open right before that mass of people come to downtown," said co-owner David Copley. file photo from 2001 – a panoramic view pieced together from several images

This year will be no different for the 71 South Pine Avenue restaurant and pub, where there will be Tecate- logoed umbrellas and event signs welcoming race fans as well as staff members prepared to work around the clock.

"It's basically all hands on deck from Thursday 4 p.m. through Sunday evening at close," said Copley, who expects a 40 percent increase in business that weekend. "Business during Grand Prix weekend is great. It brings in a ton of people and we see a tremendous amount of repeat customers that come year after year."

For many merchants and business officials, the 38th annual seaside car race on April 13-15 isn't a spectator sport – it's a chance to impress potential clients as well as make money.

Considered the city's biggest event, the Grand Prix draws an estimated 175,000 attendees throughout the weekend. Jim Michaelian, president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, said that the last study done on the event estimated its economic impact to be at least $25 million.

From restaurants and hotels to the Long Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, many venues capitalize on the event.

It's no secret that parking lots downtown get more expensive as race weekend approaches, especially along Ocean Boulevard. Attendees who want to be close to the action could pay as much as $30 on Friday and as much as $60 by Sunday, the main race day.

Hotels also mark up their rates come race weekend. For example, daily rates for Hyatt The Pike that weekend start at $369, as opposed to $118.15 the weekend before the race, according to the hotel's website.

The Hotel Maya charges $319 per night race weekend compared to $159 per night the weekend before the race.

And that's if there's a room, most of Long Beach's 4,561 hotel rooms sell out.

'Roar at Belmont Shore'

Several events are leading up to Grand Prix to further capitalize on the onslaught of race fans.

For the first time, Belmont Shore businesses will put on "Roar at Belmont Shore" on April 11 along Second Street between Covina and Corona avenues.

The event will feature live music, a racing simulator, cars on display and an autograph session with Grand Prix drivers.

Also on April 11, Alamitos Bay and McKenna's on the Bay will host a Go Kart Charity Race Off benefitting the Graham Rahal Foundation and Alex's Lemonade Stand and Association of Hole in the Wall Camps.

Race fans can listen to live music, get autographs from drivers, ride Go Karts and watch Grand Prix celebrity drivers and their pit crews go head to head for the best lap time. Celebrity Drivers Ed Carpenter and Graham Rahal are expected to make an appearance.

Longtime businessman John Morris helped coordinate the two events.

"We want to create a roar on this side of town Wednesday," Morris said. "It enhances the Grand Prix and it gets people excited about it. It's a weeklong event really, with people coming down on Monday and Tuesday. It's a way to build up the excitement leading up to Grand Prix."

Building on last year's success, Morris also plans to lease the Aqualink that weekend and offer rides between McKenna's and the Grand Prix.

"We sold it out last year," he said. "People can park here for free and pay for a $10 roundtrip boat pass that takes you to the Grand Prix. It's a beautiful ride. I may have to get two boats."

Downtown will once again host the annual Tecate Thunder Thursday on Pine on April 12. The free event centered around Pine Avenue and Broadway will feature live music, cars on display, Motorcross and freestyle stunt crews and pit stop competitions.

"It's a great economic driver for downtown," said Kraig Kojian, president and CEO of the Downtown Long Beach Associates, adding that the business organization also uses the weekend to attract potential business owners to downtown. "It's a fun way for people to hang out and enjoy downtown, and for us it's also an opportunity to showcase the downtown and put its best foot forward for entrepreneurs who care to make an investment downtown."

A place to meet

The Grand Prix also serves as a major sales tool for the CVB Convention Sales Department, said CVB spokesman Bob Maguglin.

He added that the CVB organizes an annual Grand Prix Familiarization Tour, which brings in major meeting planners from across the country and allows them to see how all of the city's hotels, government, transportation, restaurants, attractions come together for the special event.

Last year, the CVB hosted more than 20 meeting planners for race weekend, making site visits to major convention hotels and meeting key staff members from the hospitality community and service businesses.

Although several negotiations are still pending, at this time the CVB has six definite future bookings by meeting planners from the 2011 FAM totaling more than $4 million in future estimated economic impact for Long Beach, said Maguglin.

"The Long Beach Grand Prix has been a boon to our city," he said. "It is our oldest and largest annual signature event. In addition to the several hundred thousand spectators that attend the race weekend and spend money in Long Beach, the race also garners nation wide attention, including attention that goes beyond just motor racing fans. The celebrity race is extremely popular and brings a whole different audience's attention to Long Beach.

"Some spectators come for the racing, some for the music, entertainment and special events, but everyone gets to see Long Beach at its best." Long Beach Press Telegram

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