Cycling exposure trumps impact

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20140821-IMG_9595Stage 4 of the 2014 USA Pro Challenge seemed to have an outright positive effect on few vendors along the Aug. 21 race route, but small business folks stand strongly in support of the event that brings international attention to the Pikes Peak region.

The Colorado Springs leg exposed scores of local businesses to Pro Challenge enthusiasts as well as locals, some of whom dared not fight the crowds to make it to their favorite stores.

The 550-mile, week-long event that has come to be known as “America’s Race” was said to attract 1 million spectators, 15 million TV viewers and more than $100 million in revenue throughout Colorado. Sixteen teams of world-class racers drew attention not only to their skill and sponsors (Trek, BMC, Cannondale, Garmin-Sharp and more) but to the community. As viewers watched the feed live on NBC Sports, they saw the best Colorado Springs has to offer — Broadmoor, Garden of the Gods and an especially lively downtown — from breathtaking vistas via helicopter.

Although the Pro Challenge wasn’t quite the boon some local businesses thought it might be, company representatives in the region say the positive media coverage and attraction of tourists was well worth the short-term headache caused by crowds and road closures.

Luke Travins, president of Concept Restaurants, said business at the Ritz Grill and Jose Muldoon’s was down by about 5 percent Wednesday and up 10 to 15 percent Thursday (race day).

He said that although the street closures caused headaches, the small uptick in sales and positive depiction of the community were well worth the inconvenience.

“I am definitely a supporter and think that the longterm effects outweigh the negatives,” Travins said. “The race is fantastic for the city, and we embrace it.”

Colorado Springs Sports Corp., the event’s local organizer, estimated the race drew 150,000 spectators in the area. Chelsy Offutt, director of communications for the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, said many of those visiting the area stayed two days.

Meredith Vaughn, president of public relations firm Vladimir Jones, said most of the negative feedback pertained to parking, and the first economic impact reports won’t arrive until late September.

Colorado Springs’ 70-mile stage of the USA Pro Challenge attracted throngs of spectators Aug. 21 to Garden of the Gods.

Colorado Springs’ 70-mile stage of the USA Pro Challenge attracted throngs of spectators Aug. 21 to Garden of the Gods.

But if there is one sure thing, it is that Sports Corp. and the CVB reaped the ultimate benefit on behalf of the city via a 30-second advertisement that aired 22 times during the international broadcast of Stage 4, then several times during later stages.

“This was fantastic exposure, alongside the live coverage, for Colorado Springs and the region,” Offutt said.

But despite the benefit to the city, region and state at large, some business owners saw little benefit from Thursday’s fanfare.

Tara Hill, a manager at Mountain Shadows restaurant at 2223 W. Colorado Ave., said the race day was slower than usual.

“We did our usual lunch. Regulars still came in, but the traffic was still crazy,” she said. “That slowed us down a little bit just because of where we’re at.”

Hill said that although the restaurant experienced a $300 loss of business compared to a typical Thursday, it was expected and didn’t keep the staff from enjoying the show.

“It was a little down, but we kind of figured … with all of the roads locked down,” Hill said. “It was still fun, and it was good to watch.”

Staff at the nearby Thunder and Buttons (2415 W. Colorado Ave.) said Thursday was “extremely average” during the race because the customers that come in between noon and 4 p.m. tend to be regulars and business owners in Old Colorado City.

Meanwhile downtown, General Manager Joseph Gordon of Old Chicago on Tejon Street said the store endured a 20-25 percent dip compared to a typical Thursday. He added that this year’s sales were around $6,000 below those during the 2012 Pro Challenge, when the Colorado Springs event fell on a Friday.

“We were overstaffed, prepared and ready for it to happen,” he said. “I kept thinking that something would happen, but it just never did. … It was really just kind of sad.”

Gordon said he even sent employees to the streets to hand out 500 vouchers for free appetizers and pints of beer, only to see about 10 of them return.

Unlike Gordon, Travins said he is glad the Colorado Springs stage was a Thursday, rather than interrupting more predictable weekend business.

Although lodging seems to have been one of the more notably affected business sectors during the event, representatives at nearby hotels declined to comment on to what degree.

Allison Scott, director of communications for The Broadmoor, said the company doesn’t release data associated with sales or bookings, but that the Pro Challenge is definitely beneficial for the community.

Cyclists from 16 teams battled the heat and hills.

Cyclists from 16 teams battled the heat and hills.

“It was wonderful to see so many people support this event and to have them share their excitement with us and the riders at the start of the race,” she said. “Of course, the media coverage really showcased the beauty of our area.”

The bicyclist crowd seemed to avoid the outdoor gear specialists at Mountain Chalet at 226 N. Tejon St., according to Manager Matt Chmielarczyk.

“It definitely affects us,” he said, adding that parking and storefront access were a major part of the struggle. “We have to warn customers so we don’t upset someone when we say we have something and they get here not expecting it.”

Chmielarczyk said that the shop was dead all of Thursday aside from people asking to use the bathroom or the occasional regular fighting the crowd to get something before a trip.

But overall, he said the shop supports the Pro Challenge as well as the city.

“We like the event, we want the event to come back, and we think the event is a great connection to the city because this is such a cycling town. … But it does make things difficult for us.”