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The pain -- and city gains -- of a triathlon

St. Anthony's Triathlon injected at least $706,000 into the city's economy, according to estimates.

By JON WILSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 3, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Triathletes and their pals dropped a chunk of change here last weekend.

St. Anthony's Triathlon, which drew a record number of participants this year, delivered a direct financial impact of $705,929 to St. Petersburg's economy, according to estimates.

The figure would top $1-million under the "trickle-down" theory, a concept marketers sometimes use to estimate the amount of money that an event causes to be spent, then respent in a community.

While the triathlon's economic punch is not in the multimillion-dollar league of mega-attractions such as Final Fours, Super Bowls or Major League Baseball, its impact is significant, officials say.

"I was pleasantly surprised," said John Giantonio, sports director for the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

It provides advertising and a good bang for the city's tax buck, said Mayor David Fischer, who said the city gives the event $4,000.

"It does two things. It brings a lot of people into the city, and any time you bring in hundreds of people like this event does, you get tremendous exposure," Fischer said. "It's a very fresh look for the city to have."

Downtown hotels are among the beneficiaries, including the official host St. Petersburg Bayfront Hilton, the Heritage Holiday Inn and the Renaissance Vinoy Resort.

"We certainly noticed an impact," said Kris Doubles, the Vinoy resident manager.

"We love this kind of stuff because it brings out all the doctors, lawyers, people who are so involved in the triathlon. It not only brings the athletes but the spectators as well," Doubles said.

The direct-impact number is computed by using a state government-devised formula.

It uses an event's number of participants, its length, and a dollar figure based on an estimate of what someone would spend daily on such things as lodging, food and car rental.

For example, the formula estimates $122 as the amount an out-of-state adult would spend. The figure is lower for youths and participants from Florida.

This year's 17th annual event drew 2,490 participants, shattering last year's record of 2,047. The number includes individual triathletes, relay teams and participants in the Meek & Mighty, a mini-triathlon for youngsters and novice adults held Saturday.

There were so many entries in Sunday's main race that registration had to be closed before race day, a first.

Participants came from 42 states. Floridians, not surprisingly, accounted for 1,650 entries; 180 came from Georgia. Seventy-four came from Pennsylvania, 32 from Illinois and 19 from California.

Several foreign nations also sent athletes, including Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Venezuela and Italy.

"It's tough to say for sure what brings people here," said event director Steve Meckfessel.

Contributing factors doubtless include the race's reputation, the chance to visit Florida and some national advertising, said Meckfessel, who works year-round on the event.

Saturday's race for elite men and women, conducted on a compact, spectator-friendly course allowing easy viewing, proved popular.

"This year it was unbelievable," Meckfessel said. "The Pier was just slammed with (spectators)." It is uncertain whether the elite race format will be the same next year, Meckfessel said. It will depend on decisions made by triathlons' national governing body.

* * *

Fifty-four of the 56 youngsters in the Triathletes Against Tobacco program finished the Meek & Mighty event. "Which was huge," said Gil Peri, who was in charge of the youth training program put on by Bayfront-St. Anthony's Health Care. "Last year we had quite a few who didn't finish."

The youngsters, ages 7 to 14, trained for three months to get ready during the after-school program. Six won age-group awards at the race: Joseph Parr, 13, third place; Martez Williams, 13, fourth place; Marquez Lawton, 14, third place; Marquel Green, 14, fourth place; Micah Madir, 7, third place; and Sierra Harrington, 9, fourth place.

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