The Super Boat National Championship racing helped the Gulf coast city bring in a record amount of tourism dollars and spectators for its fifth annual event.
CLEARWATER — For the fifth straight year, the Super Boat National Championship offshore powerboat racing pumped millions of dollars into the local economy and exposed thousands of visitors to this city and its beaches.
Co-organizers Frank Chivas, owner of Baystar Restaurant Group, and former mayor Brian Aungst, corporate senior director of government and public relations at Bright House Networks, shared the results of an economic impact study of the weekend event on Sept. 27-29. The Klages Group, a Tampa research data service, conducted and prepared the study.
The findings indicate that the annual races pumped nearly $8.9 million into the local economy through direct visitor spending this year. That includes everything from staying at hotels, eating at restaurants and shopping at stores to fueling boats and other vehicles.
The event's effect on the community also reached beyond direct spending. The study estimated an indirect economic impact of $17.9 million, which takes into consideration additional income for workers, temporary jobs, a tax boost to the community and state, and industries supplying products and services to hotels, restaurants and shops.
The study also concluded that the races boasted near-record crowds, enticing 180,000 people during the three days, which featured parties, a race village, boat testing, live bands, two races and an awards presentation.
The cost to put on the races is approximately $250,000, half the price of the annual Key West World Championship Power Boat Race, which takes place in the state's southernmost city each November.
Chivas attributed the growing success of the Clearwater event to marketing into Central Florida, specifically east along the I-4 corridor to Orlando.
Bright House Networks provided an estimated $2 million of in-kind commercials that ran in communities along that corridor to lure visitors that weekend, historically one of the two slowest weekends in the year for tourism.
“I talked to a lot of people and asked where they came from. I found visitors from Lakeland, Lake Wales, Plant City and Orlando,” said Chivas, who intends to continue tapping into the Central Florida corridor and Orlando market to draw larger crowds in the future.
In addition, officials at the U.S. Coast Guard Station Sand Key reported a smooth and safe event for about 5,500 boats that anchored along the length of the race course and more than 40,000 people enjoying the action from the coastline.
Aungst also attributes the event's success to organizers' unique management style.
“This is not meant to be a disparaging remark, but committees just bog us down,” he said. “Frank has a role. I have a role. We keep each other in the loop. Otherwise, we get out of each other's way. We just know what works for us.”
The organizers have reason to be encouraged. The September event grew by 20 percent in overall economic impact and nearly 29 percent in attendance over last year.
According to the study, 76 hoteliers in and around the city responded and the findings revealed:
• An estimated 6,500 room nights were booked;
• Visitors stayed an average of 2.2 nights in commercial lodging;
• And 91 percent of the hotels on Clearwater Beach were occupied.
“We look forward to filling up the 2,000 additional rooms currently being built on the beach next year,” Aungst said.
Eric Waltz, general manager of the Sandpearl Resort, applauded the event, saying that in the past two years the hotel has been sold out. This year, it ran out of rooms two months in advance.
“We're noticing that the event is drawing a larger crowd of in-state travelers,” he said.
Louis Stavropoulos, general manager of the Island Estates Publix supermarket, said, “We've studiedthe (store) results each year and adapted to the demand to ensure we have plenty of product available. This year we over prepared.”
Beachgoer and boater demands are typically “grab and go” food products from the deli along with cut fruit and plenty of drinks, he said.
In summary, Aungst said, “I think we can attribute the race's success to good planning, good weather and great community support.”