Grand prix makes big splash

September 7, 2018

MICHIGAN CITY – The 10th anniversary version of the Great Lakes Grand Prix powerboat races was the biggest and best yet – and tourism officials have the numbers to prove it.

The event last month set several milestones, the most important being that visitors pumped more than $12.4 million into La Porte County’s economy, the highest amount recorded for the event, and $2 million more than last year’s tally, according to figures released Tuesday by Visit Michigan City La Porte.

The event, sponsored by Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, also set an all-time high in attendance, with more than 190,000 people visiting Washington Park during the three-day event Aug. 2-5.

“We couldn’t be happier with the outcome,” Jack Arnett, executive director of Visit Michigan City/La Porte, said. “This event has become our signature event – something our community can be proud of.”

The Grand Prix benefits the community in many ways, according to the report, compiled by Certec Inc., a Kentucky-based marketing analysis group which specializes in economic impact studies on events relating to tourism.

The report shows visitors from out of town spent more than $8 million on direct expenditures such as food and beverages, shopping and transportation, accounting for about 75 percent of the total $12.4 million.

Jobs directly related to the Grand Prix provided nearly $2.8 million in wages to La Porte County workers, and non-local visitor spending alone generated $3.2 million in taxes, with $642,600 going into local government coffers, according to the report.

The Grand Prix is part of the popular summer race circuit staged by Super Boat International, North America’s top organization for the sport. The race on Lake Michigan features some of the world’s fastest and most powerful boats, reaching speeds near 200 mph.

The Grand Prix was “staged for the first time 10 years ago to showcase Michigan City and its lakefront,” Arnett said. “After much research of potential events, the La Porte County Convention & Visitors Bureau decided that hosting a stop on the Super Boat International circuit would be the best fit. This year, the races alone, held as the grand finale on Sunday, drew some 80,000 spectators.”

Events leading up to the races were also part of the draw. Taste of Michigan City drew 15,000 people on Friday night and 45,000 on Saturday, the report showed.

Other weekend attractions drawing from 5,000 to 45,000, depending on the day, included vendors and musical performances in Washington Park, a parade of the giant boats, and a huge block party on Saturday.

There may also be some extracurricular benefits.

At Wednesday morning’s La Porte County Board of Commissioners meeting, Jane Daley of Visit Michigan City La Porte said the event provided a fiscal boost to Michigan City’s Emergency Management volunteers.

“They are invaluable when it comes to keeping everyone and everything safe, and running smoothly at the Grand Prix Boat Race and the Taste of Michigan City,” she said.

“We were happy to present the volunteer group last night with a check in the amount of $2,463,” money raised through an annual silent auction at the Grand Prix.

“We are always amazed at what the volunteers do for the race, the parade and the entire community,” Daley said.

Even the animals at Washington Park Zoo will benefit. Billy Mauff, owner of WHM motorsports, one of the race teams that competes annually, “is a big animal lover and huge animal activist,” Rick Wright, Grand Prix director, told the commissioners.

Mauff attends Washington Park Zoo during the race weekend, and has donated in the past.

“During one of his conversations that race weekend with one of the Washington Park Zoo employees, he learned about the renovation of the lion and tiger den that is going to happen,” Wright said.

And at the awards banquet, he announced he was going to donate $10,000 toward that project.

“Just a great example of how money can come in from that race, not even affecting economic impact,” Wright said.

Arnett said there are “many more such stories like that you don’t always hear about.”

And word is spreading, according to the report. Two out of five out-of-town visitors were attending the Grand Prix for the first time, illustrating the event’s growing visibility.

Arnett said “more and more people are becoming aware of the event. I would attribute the increase in the economic impact to the fact that the race has become one of the lead events of the summer throughout the region.”

It was also named “Best Festival in Indiana” last year by Midwest Living magazine and the Indiana Tourism Association, and that “certainly didn’t hurt our visibility,” Arnett said.

Local residents also appear enamored with the Grand Prix, with the report showing they contributed an additional $476,700 in expenditures, a figure not included in the $12.4 million total.

The report also concluded that the Grand Prix, which drew visitors from 10 states, gives “visibility to other tourism venues in Michigan City.”

In addition to the race and the events directly connected, visitors dined, went to the beach, swam, and visited the Blue Chip Casino, Spa and Resort; and the zoo during their stay, it said.

“Tourism is a key component of the La Porte County economy,” the report summarized. “The county’s festivals and events are an important part of the local tourism industry.”

Next year’s event will be held Aug. 1-4.

“This was our best race ever,” Arnett said. “This is our signature event, it’s a regional event, and we’re very proud of it.”

—From staff reports

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