Hydro Racing

Tri-City hotel fund continues to boost hydro races

The Tri-City Water Follies Association got a financial boost Thursday for the 2009 hydroplane races from the Tri-City Regional Hotel-Motel Commission, though it wasn't as much as they'd hoped for.

Commissioners approved $3 per hotel room occupied with Water Follies-related visitors from a fund for sponsoring groups holding events in the area.

If the event fills local hotels to the same levels it did last year, the total would be nearly $17,200.

The commission capped the amount it would give at $20,000.

Hotels reported more than 5,700 rooms were booked with Water Follies visitors during the course of the three-day weekend in 2008.

Water Follies officials had requested $30,000, and though commissioners said they support the event, they were reluctant to take that much money out of the fund.

"That's half of what we budget (given to) one event," said Jim Gibson, general manager for the Best Western hotels in Pasco and Kennewick. "I struggle with that kind of a number."

Kathy Balcom, past president of Water Follies, said the money would be used to market the event with television advertising in the Seattle and Spokane markets. The organization also would like to promote the July event to the Portland area, she said.

Follies officials said the $40,000 they spent on marketing last year helped boost the number of people who came from outside the Mid-Columbia.

Between 60,000 and 65,000 people attended the event in 2008, compared with about 50,000 in 2007, said Kathy Powell, executive director for Water Follies.

Total room nights booked for Water Follies, based on reports from area hotels, also grew in 2008, about 29 percent.

There were about 4,400 hotel rooms booked for the event in 2007.

"What you're doing is working for out-of-town visitors," said Kim Shugart, vice president of operations for the Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau.

The Follies financial situation is much more secure this year than it was two years ago, Balcom said.

"We are in the black," she said.

In 2007, the commission voted unanimously to give the organization $60,000 from its reserve funds to help it stay afloat.

Last year, the tourism industry gave Follies $10,000.