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Organizers of the Huntington Tall Ships Toledo festival were pretty sure they were going to get busloads of people coming from such nearby cities as Dayton and Fort Wayne, Ind.
But they had no clue that travelers would journey from as far away as Florida and Alabama for the four-day event that started Thursday and runs through tomorrow at International Park across from downtown Toledo.
Those visitors could pour $2 million to $3 million directly into the local economy, said James Donnelly, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Toledo Convention & Visitors Bureau. That economic shot in the arm follows by less than a month the estimated $15 million to $25 million boost from the 2003 U.S. Senior Open golf tournament played in late June at the Inverness Club.
For the Tall Ships event, “we've had people in here from Florida, from Alabama, from North Carolina. They've come from all over the country,” said Walter Edelen, president of International Park of Greater Toledo, Inc., the organizer of the event that features 17 historical sailing ships.
This weekend's event is an Ohio Bicentennial Commission Signature Event, with the state helping to fund the festivities in Toledo and a handful of other major cities.
Event organizers think the four days could pump as much as $12 million into the local economy.
Deborah Birk, vice president of marketing for Huntington National Bank in Columbus, estimated the economic impact on Cleveland from the tall ships' visit there in 2001 was $20 million. It could go as high as $40 million for this year's tall ships visit to Cleveland, she said.
The Wyndham Hotel Toledo, on the riverfront, has been booked solid for this week, and officials at other downtown hotels say walk-in traffic has increased since the event started.
Michael Sapara, general manager of the Radisson Hotel in downtown Toledo, said his 400-room hotel, with a quarter of the rooms facing the river, was less than 50 percent booked at the start of the week.
But early yesterday afternoon, he reported a 75 percent occupancy rate for last night and tonight.
Restaurants at The Docks, where some diners will have ringside seats for the ships, have stocked up and added staff for the weekend.
Bob Caldin, operations manager for ParkSmart in Toledo, said the company has recruited staff from Detroit and Cleveland to back up workers at its three downtown parking garages. They have more than 2,700 spaces for which festival visitors will be charged $5 and be given free shuttle rides to the event.
Mr. Edelen said organizers think the Toledo event could draw as many as 150,000 visitors for the four days, most of whom have paid $12 or $15 for a tour of the ships.