Spokane loses at least $120 million from canceled events in 2020; agencies look forward to better year

SPOKANE, Wash. – The Spokane Arena just announced its first concert since the start of the pandemic. Although The Weeknd won’t be taking the stage until April of 2022, it’s a sign of hope.

That announcement means Spokane is on the path forward to having big events again. It’s one that’s desperately needed for Spokane’s economy as well as businesses that are struggling in the downtown core.

“Not having events downtown is devastating,” said Christy Belisle, managing partner of Landmark Restaurants, which is the parent company of The Onion and Franks Diner.

The Onion Taphouse and Grill is already hurting because of restaurant restrictions. It’s an even bigger blow without events.

“At least 50 percent, if not more, of our business comes from those activities and we aren’t seeing anything scheduled,” Belisle told 4 News Now.

There isn’t anything scheduled within the next month or so, at least.

The Spokane Sports Commission says events that were scheduled from January to March, the first quarter of 2021, have been postponed or canceled.

“We’re trying our hardest right now to schedule a lot of events. We’re having some luck with that,” said Eric Sawyer, the president of the Spokane Sports Commission. “Our large volleyball tournaments, middle school and high school basketball, PNQ volleyball, all those scheduled later in the year.”

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Bloomsday already announced it would be going virtual again. Hoopfest just announced on Monday that it’s pushing the event back to September instead of holding it in June.

Spokane lost at least $120 million dollars because of canceled events in 2020. Sawyer says that number is pretty “conservative.” That’s a total combined between the Spokane Sports Commission and VisitSpokane.

Of that $120 million lost, half of it was because 50 sports events were canceled, Sawyer said.

Even with Hoopfest pushed back, Sawyer says it might not bring in the money it normally would. The same could be said for other sporting events usually held in Spokane.

“It doesn’t feel right, obviously, and it will certainly have an impact. But, I think these are temporary fixes,” Sawyer said.

VisitSpokane said $60 million were lost in just businesses around the Spokane Convention Center.

“What that does is it has a huge trickle down effect because that affects all of our retail, our restaurants all of the other businesses that rely on these groups coming into town, especially during our down times,” said Meg Winchester, the president and CEO of VisitSpokane.

That comes down to businesses like The Onion.

“We all love being in the restaurant business for a reason and there’s people and fun and excitement and all these activities. These events that are planned by the city, they’re so wonderful. We love them, but without them there, we just can’t do anything,” Belisle said.

RELATED: The Weeknd set to perform at Spokane Arena next year

With the announcement of an concert coming to town, it could be a sign that things are on the path to normalcy again.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, one which Winchester says is “starting to shine brighter these days.”

VisitSpokane is also seeing an increase in traffic to its website, seeing an all time high in November. Winchester says the organization received money from the CARES Act for marketing.

Winchester knew that people were mostly traveling by car during the pandemic, so they marketed to the west side of the state and Portland.

“We are really positive that, especially on the leisure side, we’ll start to see people really start to come back and we’re hoping in the summer, we’ll start to see the increases,” she said.

Both Winchester and Sawyer say there is pent up demand for traveling, since people are forced to stay put during the pandemic.

In 2019, more than 10 million people visit the region, Winchester said. In 2020, she said hotel occupancy and rates were down 27% in the county. However, Spokane did do better than some cities the organization compares itself to, such as Boise.

“I think once we’re able to start opening up, we’re going to see a lot of folks who want to travel, whether it’s chasing their own children who are competitive or own desire in sports or fans, whatever it is,” Sawyer said.

“What’s happening right now is people are really dreaming about traveling again,” Winchester added.

On the bright side, for the Spokane Sports Commission, The Podium, Spokane’s new indoor sportsplex, will be finished later this year. Sawyer says they may start having some small events in it come the fall.

‘”We’re already seeing the benefits of that and will be able to announce some more events coming up pretty quick in 2022,” Sawyer said. “I’m feeling positive about the future. We just want to get there. We’ve got to get through these first few months.”

So what will Spokane’s economy look like in 2021?

Both VisitSpokane and the Spokane Sports Commission hope it will be better than 2020, and they have hope it would as more people continue to get vaccinated.

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