Tennis, Corvette events bringing business to town
CHAMPAIGN — Kiefer Manning doesn't have to guess who's coming to dinner at Biaggi's the next two weeks.
Tennis fans, and lots of them — in town to see the NCAA men's and women's tennis championships.
"I've been looking at the bookings, and we do see a definite increase," said Manning, the dining room manager at Biaggi's in Champaign. "It's definitely bringing in a ton of business, though not as much as the (Illinois) Marathon."
The nice thing for Biaggi's is that many fans are expected at off-times since play doesn't end at the normal lunch and dinner times, he said.
Consequently, "we're going to see a continuous flow of people," Manning said.
Cory Hatfield, sales and sports director for Visit Champaign County, said it's difficult to figure how many spectators will attend the championships. He estimates athletes, coaches and officials alone will count for 672.
Hatfield said there will be 16 men's teams and 16 women's teams, with 13 people per team — plus the players coming to participate in the singles and doubles championships.
He said "hotels are booked up for a good majority" of the championships, which start Thursday and continue through May 27.
This coming weekend, he said, promises to be "huge," with several other basketball, baseball and softball tournaments going on around town.
Natalie Gross, marketing director for the I Hotel and Conference Center in Champaign, said the hotel is sold out "the majority of nights at the beginning of the tournament."
Several teams are staying at the I Hotel, with teams leaving once they're eliminated. Consequently, the occupancy rate is expected to lighten up toward Memorial Day weekend when singles play is going on, she said.
Holly Stalcup, the tournament director, said NCAA tennis championships at other sites have attracted more than 10,000 people. But she doesn't know what to expect for fan attendance here.
Stalcup said she began work on the tournament three years ago, when the UI was awarded the bid in June 2010.
At that time, she booked about 225 room-nights at seven hotels in Champaign-Urbana to ensure that student athletes, officials and NCAA staff would have a place to stay.
"We had to make sure we had enough room for everyone," she said.
Hatfield predicted the biggest crowds this coming weekend.
"Restaurants and businesses will see a spike (in sales) with so many in town for kickoff weekend, especially," he said.
Even though the championships don't start until Thursday, men's teams were practicing Tuesday, and both men's and women's teams have practices Wednesday, Stalcup said.
Hotels, restaurants and other businesses are also looking forward to Bloomington Gold, the mammoth Corvette conclave coming to the University of Illinois State Farm Center grounds June 28-30.
Hatfield expects 3,000 to 5,000 Corvettes that weekend and 25,000 to 35,000 people in town to see them — or drive them.
"By the end of next week, all the rooms will be booked" at most hotels in town, he predicted.
Guy Larsen, owner and president of Bloomington Gold, said he expects 30,000 attendees over the three days, up from the 25,000 who attended last year's event. Most will be Corvette enthusiasts, but some are just curious.
"I'm guessing most of the hotels in town are full already, and they certainly will be by then," Larsen said. "The wait time in restaurants will be up for a few days."
Most attendees drive to Bloomington Gold, in some cases making eight- to 10-hour trips.
"We get a pretty good showing of people from California and Florida. Texas is a strong state," he said. "Each year we get some people from Australia and a fair number from Canada and Europe."
Larsen said many Bloomington Gold participants are people 45 to 65 years old, with above-average incomes.
"They like to go out and go to restaurants and have fun," he said. "They're not kids who are going to raise any problems at night."