Downtown events bring out-of-town bucks to local restaurants, hotels

Published: Wednesday, March 11, 2009 7:00 am

The Journal Record

OKLAHOMA CITY - Last week The Buzz could barely brew coffee fast enough to meet demand.

The coffee shop and eatery inside the First National Center was just one business that saw a major bump when the American Choral Directors Association convention brought about 6,500 people downtown.

"We had an awesome week," said Buzz co-owner Alison Sisson. "We were busy from open to close."

On a normal weekday The Buzz serves 200 to 300 customers.

"Last week it was probably double or triple that," Sisson said. "We could barely keep up."

Laura Kriegel, director of marketing and communications for the Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the choral directors had an economic impact of $7.6 million.

With the Big 12 men's and women's basketball championships rolling into town this week, the CVB expects plenty of people who will need food, drinks and hotel rooms.

That should fare well with downtown merchants.

"We're expecting to be busy again," Sisson said. "We're hoping for another good week."

Kriegel said when Oklahoma City hosted the Big 12 in 2007 the economic impact was $42 million. This year the CVB expects the five-day event to have an economic impact of $40 million to $45 million.

Ada-based Pre-Paid Legal Services Inc. will have 13,000 people downtown for its convention next week with an economic impact of $15 million, Kriegel said. The company has held the convention here since 2000.

Despite many groups and organizations scaling back or canceling events in other markets, Kriegel said Oklahoma City is still on track.

"We haven't lost convention business," she said. "We've got large events coming in through the summer."

John Williams, general manager of the Skirvin Hilton Hotel, had the hotel booked last week and it will soon be filled with Big 12 business.

"We're in good shape," he said.

Williams said his guests spend money at the hotel and elsewhere downtown.

"We have a great restaurant but people don't want to eat every meal at the hotel restaurant," he said. "They want to get out and see what the city can offer."

One downside of an influx of people downtown can be its effect on the regulars.

Sisson said she never wants to ignore those who support the business all year, despite long lines during events and conventions.

"A lot of our regulars would pop in and see the line out the door and they'd say 'we'll come back and see you later,'" she said. "But we try to squeeze them in any way we can."

Kriegel said most take the occasional crowds in stride.

"I don't think we've gotten any calls at the CVB that people are complaining that the lines are too long getting in the parking garage or the lines at restaurants are too long," she said. "In the big picture it's such a positive for this city."

Sisson said she would welcome a packed house on a regular basis.

"I wish we always had that many people downtown," she said.

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