Special Olympics forecast to bring millions to city's economy

PHOTO/Rob Stapleton/AJOC
Alaska business -- and Alaskans’ hearts -- could feel a boost from the 2001 Special Olympics World Winter Games, the largest sporting event ever held in Alaska.

The March 4-11 event, expected to bring a direct infusion of $20.6 million in new cash to the Anchorage economy, could pay future dividends.

The organizing committee commissioned the University of Alaska Anchorage Institute of Social and Economic Research to conduct a study to track the economic impact of the event. A $142,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education paid for the study, which also is examining the success of a school curriculum project looking at how students view people with disabilities, said Ben Stevens, president and chief executive of 2001 Special Olympics World Winter Games Alaska.

Preliminary figures show the Games will generate $33 million in total direct and indirect sales for Anchorage. Even Alaskans’ spectator spending will add economic significance, the report notes.

The timing also is beneficial for some Alaska companies.

"The event comes off the peak of the visitor season so it helps businesses fill in the trough" some business feel in winter, said ISER economist Scott Goldsmith.

"If the community is successful in pulling this thing off -- which I expect it will -- it will be a good mark for the community and helpful for attracting other events of this nature," Goldsmith said.

ISER staff will survey visitor expenditures during the Games and interview businesses afterward on their numbers, he said.

A final report will be complete in late spring, Goldsmith said.

ISER says capital improvements to venues like Kincaid Park and others may tally $6.5 million. "We’ll continue to have the benefit of those facilities," he said.

Games organizers, who received a grant to pay for the study, chose to conduct the analysis to better define the economic scope of the Anchorage event since other host cities lacked specific data, said spokeswoman Kathy Day.

"We hope to pass this information on to other communities," she said.

The Games are touching area residents’ hearts as well. The study notes more than 4,500 Alaskans will volunteer for the event, a contribution valued at more than $1 million.

An estimated 8,000 visitors from 70 countries are expected to visit Anchorage for the Games, competing at Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, Kincaid Park, Hilltop Ski Area, the FedEx hangar, Tesoro Sports Centre and the Harry J. McDonald Memorial Center in Eagle River. The Egan Civic & Convention Center will host an athlete’s center called Special Olympics Town. Athletes will compete in alpine skiing, figure skating, snowboarding, snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, speed skating and floor hockey.

The ISER study also expects the event will fill 2,000 hotel rooms for 10 days and bring in $200,000 in revenue from bed and rental car taxes. The event may trigger $1.2 million in sales for the transportation sector, $3.7 million in restaurant sales and $3.6 million in retail sales, according to ISER.

Mike Herzog, store manager of Recreational Equipment Inc., said the sporting goods retailer has stocked up on a few items like hats, gloves and long underwear.

"We’re expecting folks to show up and need the basics," he said.

However, he has not adding extra staff during the Games and hasn’t ordered any special stock.

Athletes and other international visitors should recognize REI due to its international operations and Internet presence, he said.

Some companies are on contract to provide services for the Games.

Mayflower Catering of Anchorage will fill a $25,000 contract to provide 20,000 cups of soup to athletes and volunteers at venues, said company vice president Jason Ellis. The caterer also will provide breakfasts of muffins, pastries and coffee, and in the afternoon it will distribute fruit and vegetable trays, he said.

Although the contract total is less than Ellis expected, it is a boost during a slow time of year, he said.

Compass Northwest LLC, an Alaska division of Lower 48-based Compass Group, is fulfilling a contract exceeding $200,000 to provide cold box lunches for athletes and volunteers, said project manager Mark Jimmerson. Compass Northwest will produce more than 50,000 box lunches in total, starting with a few hundred daily in late February to a peak of 5,500 lunches each day during competition, he said.

The company, which serves remote site camps in Alaska, will prepare the lunches from an airline kitchen near the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, he said. An additional 20 workers were to be hired for the project to work with the existing five-person staff, Jimmerson said.

The Games are good publicity for the company in Alaska and important for the parent company, he said. "It’s a real great interest for us because our parent company has the contract for the 2002 Winter Olympics for Salt Lake City," Jimmerson said.

That upcoming event dwarfs this year’s Anchorage Games, but Alaskans once envisioned hosting the Winter Olympics. Salt Lake City organizers expect 3,500 athletes and officials for the event, which could bring $443 million in revenue from worldwide broadcast rights fees plus $2.8 billion in economic impact. An Anchorage group bid unsuccessfully to host the 1992 and 1994 Winter Olympics.

Other businesses are donating products and services to the Special Olympics in Anchorage. Coca-Cola is donating more than 160,000 bottles of cola drink, water and Coca-Cola owned Minute Maid fruit juices, said company Special Olympics project manager Charlie Templeton.

"It’s more than a donation," he said. "The company has been a Special Olympics sponsor for over 30 years. We are one of the founding sponsors. It’s a commitment to the ideals of the organization."

03/03/2001 - 8:00pm