Pikes Peak Hill Climb fuels local hospitality industry

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Team Ducati’s racers and pit crew dined on steaks and jumbo prawns at MacKenzie’s Chophouse.

Big-rig racer Mike Ryan of Mike Ryan Motorsports in California stayed at the Dillon Motel in Manitou Springs, where the “hospitality was incomparable.”

And Falken Tire and Team Ducati stayed at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort.

That scenario played out all over the area as spectators, 169 racers, support crews and tons of officials descended on hotels and restaurants last week for a race that many Europeans know more about than most Coloradans do — the 88th Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

The June 27 multi-division car, truck and motorcycle race to the top of Pikes Peak — the second most-visited mountain in the world — brought in at least $1 million to the local economy.

That estimate doesn’t include what future visitors from Europe, Asia and America will spend when they visit the region, lured here after seeing the panoramic views of the mountain from television’s race-day coverage.

“The public relations piece — you can’t put a price tag on that,” said John Washko, vice president of sales and marketing at The Broadmoor hotel, which was an event sponsor.

The International Hill Climb is only one of many events taking place in Colorado Springs throughout the summer.

What the media attention does for the city — especially on years when Japan’s Nobuhiro Tajima takes the flag in one of the more high-profile divisions, as he did again this year — is not easily quantified, but it’s substantial.

“From a national and international basis, the race brands Colorado Springs with America’s mountain as a destination. So that’s a longer-lasting effect than (just) the visitors for that one weekend,” Washko said.

Several local properties were partner hotels for the Hill Climb — the Colorado Springs Marriott, Crowne Plaza Colorado Springs and Cheyenne Mountain Resort.

The 309-room Marriott was sold out Tuesday through Saturday nights, though not just from the Hill Climb, said Lori Shook, director of sales and marketing.

There were softball and baseball tournaments, weddings, bike races and other sports activities in the area over the weekend, she said.

For the week of the hill climb, occupancy at Cheyenne Mountain was up nearly 20 percent, 6.6 percent of which was attributable to the big event, said John Branciforte, vice president of marketing for the resort. It was the biggest impact so far that the resort has seen from the race.

“As (activity picks up at the) Pikes Peak International Raceway and the Richard Petty Driving Experience, the city will start to be known as a motorsports destination again,” Branciforte said.

“These guys (Falken and Ducati) were here for five or six nights. They’re great clients. You really can’t ask for that length of stay anymore; it’s rare.”

On the Friday before race day, June 25, the annual pre-race Fan Fest brought 35,000 Hill Climb fans to downtown. Restaurants and bars all up and down Tejon Street were packed. Business on Friday night at The Ritz, MacKenzie’s and Jose Muldoon’s was up 10 percent, said Luke Travins, co-owner of Concept Restaurants, which operates all three restaurants.

The 500-room Crowne Plaza served as Hill Climb headquarters for the third year running. The hotel stayed busy all week, and hit 100-percent occupancy on the Friday and Saturday before the race, said Tracey Hampton, director of sales for Crowne Plaza.

It didn’t hurt matters that the Porsche Panamera pace car — which was driven by John Andretti on race day — was displayed at the hotel, and that registration also took place there, as well as technical inspections for 58 cars and 107 motorcycles.

In Manitou Springs, just down Highway 24 from Pikes Peak, spectators and locals jammed into town throughout the weekend.

Most of the city’s motel parking lots were full, said Floyd O’Neil, media and special events coordinator for the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce. And Rocky Mountain Vintage Racing’s display of vintage race cars on Saturday in Manitou’s Memorial Park drew big crowds, as well.

Looking ahead, after a brief respite, event organizers will gear up again, racing toward next year’s deadline to bring the second-oldest race in the nation back to America’s favorite mountain.

“We’d love to have more international events, because the event does the marketing for you,” Washko said.

“Japanese auto racers are Tweeting, blogging and posting on social networks sites — it multiplies the content, exponentially, even more than just a few years ago. It takes on its own life.”

Thanks, Tajima.

Rebecca Tonn can be reached at rebecca.tonn@csbj.com or 719-329-5229. Friend her on Facebook.