MICHIGAN CITY – The decision to expand the 2019 Great Lakes Grand Prix with new and additional races paid off in a big way for the community, as the 11th annual event set all-time records for both attendance and earnings
According to a report released Friday by Visit Michigan City LaPorte Convention & Visitors Bureau, a total of 212,600 people visited the event from Aug. 2-4, generating $13.6 million for La Porte County’s economy.
“Attendance was over the top, and we couldn’t be happier,” said Jack Arnett, executive director of Visit Michigan City La Porte. “We had visitors from around the world, representing five continents. The combined attendance for the three days makes this one of the largest events in the region.”
The Great Lakes Grand Prix, held on Lake Michigan just off Washington Park, featured some of the world’s fastest powerboats, racing at speeds nearing 175 mph, Arnett said. Originally staged to showcase Michigan City and its lakefront, the race has become a top draw for visitors, especially with high-endurance jet ski racing added this year.
“The Great Lakes Grand Prix is without a doubt our marquee event,” Mayor Ron Meer said. “As the mayor of Michigan City, I am proud of all of my departments and especially the La Porte County Convention & Visitors Bureau for all of their hard work. It is because of all of them that Michigan City once again shined in such a positive light.”
The financial figures for 2019 easily topped last year’s attendance of 190,000 and earnings of $12.4 million, according to a report prepared for the Convention & Visitors Bureau by Certec Inc., a marketing analysis group based in Lexington, Kentucky.
The report shows that visitors from out of town spent $9.1 million on direct expenditures such as food, beverages, shopping and transportation, accounting for a large portion of this year’s $13.6 million in earnings, Arnett said. In addition, local residents attending the event contributed an additional $518,100 in direct spending.
Jobs directly related to the Grand Prix provided more than $3 million in wages to La Porte County workers, the report showed, and non-local visitor spending alone generated $3.6 million in tax revenues, with $705,800 going to local government.
Arnett attributed some of the uptick in earnings and attendance to changes in this year’s race, including staging races for two days instead of one.
Also, for the first time, the Grand Prix partnered with the American Powerboat Association, putting the Michigan City races into a six-venue racing series staged by the group, he said.
The association was formed when the world’s leading marine motorsport brand, Powerboat P1, and the Offshore Powerboat Association joined forces. In addition, Grand Prix organizers brought in AquaX, a group that promotes high-endurance jet ski racing around the world.
“The decision to go with OPA and bring in the extra day of racing along with the AquaX (jet skis) helped to push this to a new level,” Arnett said.
Other events occurring during race weekend contributed greatly to its overall success, the report showed. The annual Taste of Michigan City, sponsored by the Michigan City Mainstreet Association, drew 15,000 visitors on Friday, while 7,000 visited Washington Park that day, taking advantage of vendors and musical entertainment.
On Saturday, 50,000 visitors headed for the Taste of Michigan City, Boat Parade and Party, and another 50,000 to the park for the races and other activities. On Sunday, park attendance grew to 90,000 for the races, the report showed.
Nearly a third of the visitors were attending the Grand Prix weekend for the first time, the report said, and many took advantage of at least two other activities while in the area, including the beach, Blue Chip Casino, Washington Park Zoo and the Hesston Steam Museum, the report showed.
It also noted that “tourism is a key component of the La Porte County economy … generating nearly $713 million in economic impact last year.”
Meer agreed, adding the Grand Prix helps showcase the community.
“Welcoming the number of people into our community that were here over the course of this year’s races is a huge opportunity for us to highlight everything Michigan City has to offer,” he said.