The financial benefits to Lawrence hosting the National Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships last summer at Rock Chalk Park appear to be somewhat less than advertised.
The event, held the last week in July, was sponsored by USA Track and Field and attracted an estimated 8,000 athletes and 25,000 total visitors to Lawrence and the surrounding region, according to figures provided by Explore Lawrence, the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau. Shortly after the event ended, Explore Lawrence issued an economic impact report estimating visitors spent $17.7 million during their time in Lawrence and the area.
The report estimated that lodging businesses drew $6.5 million; restaurants $4.9 million; and retail $3 million. Other industries that reportedly benefited included transportation companies at about $1.4 million, recreation-oriented businesses at $1.1 million, business services at about $390,000 and event rental businesses at about $290,000.
Sales of $17.7 million should have generated some $450,000 in sales tax revenue. Explore Lawrence made clear that that revenue would be shared by communities throughout the region. Still, new sales tax receipts show totals fall far short of what was expected for Lawrence and Douglas County.
Due to timing of when sales taxes are collected and remitted, any boost from the Junior Olympics would have shown up in September and/or October for Lawrence and Douglas County. But when the state Department of Revenue reported October sales tax receipts this week, revenues for Lawrence and Douglas County were down compared with October 2016. In fact, the combined increase for Lawrence and Douglas County for September and October compared with September and October 2016 was just $54,197. Not that $54,000 is anything to sneeze at, but it’s barely 10 percent of what Explore Lawrence estimated.
“I think it was a bit of a learning curve in terms of what our expectations should be,” said Michael Davidson, executive director of Explore Lawrence.
Davidson said the event generated 41,000 hotel lodging nights but that just 7,100 or 17 percent were in Lawrence. The rest were in surrounding communities such as Topeka and Johnson County that may have benefitted more than Lawrence. Davidson said that in the future Explore Lawrence may ask surrounding communities to provide greater financial support for events like the Junior Olympics.
While it may not have provided the financial impact officials had hoped it would, the impact of the Junior Olympics is still very positive. For one, it was a powerful way to showcase the community to thousands of families, who are likely to return. It also served as a recruiting tool for the University of Kansas, showcasing the school and the first rate facilities at Rock Chalk Park to thousands of future students from all over the country.
But clearly, there is a disconnect between the financial impacts that were touted for the event and the actual benefits realized. More cautious revenue projections — and investment commitments — would be well advised in the future.