Drawing about 65,000 spectators to the banks of the Columbia River creates plenty of benefits for Tri-City businesses, many company operators say.
That's because the boat races attract enough visitors to fill 5,000 to 6,000 guest room nights in local hotels, said Kris Watkins, president and CEO of Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau.
And while here, those visitors spend about $2.3 million, her organization estimates.
It's true some will spend all weekend at the river. But others will take time to play golf, visit wineries or attend the Allied Arts Association's Art in the Park in Richland, Watkins said.
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Canyon Lakes Golf Course in Kennewick is slammed Thursday through Saturday, reported Mike Lundgren, president and general manager. He said the rush starts with Thursday's Water Follies Golf Tournament, in which hydroplane competitors, crews, visitors and residents play.
Those busy days more than make up for a slightly slower Sunday, Lundgren said.
Having the event is a great way to give people their first taste of the Tri-Cities, he said.
Richland's Columbia Point Golf Course remains busy during the weekend, said Mike Brigantic, proshop assistant.
But Columbia Park Golf Course in Kennewick is closed Thursday through Sunday, said Kurt Nygaard, golf operations manager. The driving range for the city-owned property is used for VIP parking for Water Follies.
Just upriver, Art in the Park does draw some Water Follies spectators, said Jennifer Hickman, director of Art in the Park.
The event in Howard Amon Park is held on the same Friday and Saturday as Water Follies and is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. today and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday.
More than 250 artists will sell their work, and Hickman expects up to 40,000 people to attend.
Grocery stores and gas stations also expect more sales this weekend.
Tri-Citians spend extra at grocery stores to stock up for guests or pick up more food for picnics or barbecues, Watkins said. And most who travel to the Tri-Cities for the Water Follies drive, which means they fill up their gas tanks.
Kennewick's Yoke's Fresh Market on 27th Avenue sees a slight increase in sales on Water Follies weekend. Mitch Yoke, the grocery manager, said beer, water and soda are especially popular. Budweiser even built a hydroplane replica out of beer in the store.
Picnic items and snacks also sell well, Yoke said.
Picnic foods also are popular at Pasco's Fiesta Foods, said Marcos Ramos, assistant store director. The store does see more customers on boat race weekend, he added, with beer, pop, ice, snacks, chips and meat particularly in demand.
Costco in Kennewick sees an increase in traffic, with people stocking up for the weekend, said Shawn Hancock, warehouse manager. He believes that's caused by locals who have family and friends in town and need extra supplies. Costco's gas sales also increase, he said.
Customer traffic is even up during the weekend at Kennewick's Touchstone Jewelers, said co-owner Sharon McAlmond.
It's great for the whole area to have an event that brings in visitors, she said.
They regularly pack local hotels.
Clover Island Inn was completely booked for Water Follies weekend about four months before the race, said general manager Mark Blotz.
Among the visitors are the Oh Boy! Oberto team and returning groups, including a Fun in the Sun group from Seattle that has attended the boat races for about 20 years, Blotz said.
The inn's restaurant is busy all weekend. The inn plays host to a bash on the east end of Clover Island tonight, and a pool party Sunday night after the race, Blotz said. Both parties are open to locals.
"It's a fun event," he said. "I'm glad that we are able to be part of it at the hotel."
And when visitors leave, many make reservations for the next Water Follies, Blotz said.
It isn't just businesses that benefit. High school groups, churches, sports and dance teams and nonprofits use Water Follies as a fundraiser. Their members park cars, sell programs and booster buttons, and all the money they earn goes to the group they represent, said Kathy Powell, Water Follies event director.
The park is one of the sites where people can participate in ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston's Free Fries Fryday today. For every free serving of fries consumed, Lamb Weston donates 10 cents to Second Harvest Tri-Cities.
The Lions Club, Knights of Columbus and Teen Challenge USA all run concession stands in the park as fundraisers, Powell said.
Water Follies hopes to draw more than the 65,000 spectators who attended last year, Powell said.
The chances already look good, since the large private hospitality tents are all sold out for the first time in several years, she said. And only one of the private tent areas Water Follies sponsors had any remaining seats more than a week before the hydroplane races.
But some businesses do see a decrease in customers on the weekend.
Ice Harbor Brewing Company's restaurants in Kennewick likely will see fewer customers, said co-owner Mike Hall.
"We're just not a destination for boat races," he said.
Hall said the company has tried to attract business during Water Follies weekend in the past, but gave up when holding boat-race-related events didn't help.
The brewing company does cater beer in the private areas along the river during the weekend, which Hall said helps.
And on Sunday, Hall said the company closes both restaurants so their 55 employees can enjoy Water Follies at an area the company reserves for its employees.
The benefit to the Tri-Cities from Water Follies isn't in business traffic alone. Watkins said the Tri-Cities couldn't buy the exposure that Water Follies gives the area.
"It puts the Tri-Cities on the map as being a water destination," she said.
Water Follies isn't the largest tourist event in the Tri-Cities compared with some sports events and conventions, but it is the biggest community event in which both residents and visitors participate, Watkins said.
H1 Unlimited, the sanctioning body for the hydroplane races, will live stream the races online, Powell said. And Tampa Digital will film the race for delayed broadcast on national TV.