Thousands of spectators showed up Saturday for first ever Wake the Lake boat races at the Clark County Fairgrounds.

Powerboat race to expand in Springfield after big crowds, impact

A racing event that debuted at the Clark County Fairgrounds last year had a significant economic impact — and could expand when it returns this year, according to local leaders.

The Springfield F1 Grand Prix — a nationally televised powerboat race that was hosted on the 125-acre lake at the fairgrounds — took place in August 2017. An estimated 5,000 people attended last year’s race, which aired on CBS in October. The event will return to the area this August.

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The event will feature more races and chances to interact with the participants, as well as a free concert, Clark County Fairgrounds Executive Director Dean Blair said. The race’s return could herald even more expansion in the future, he said.

“Ideally we could expand this into something like half a dozen to 12 races per year,” he said. “Honestly, we’re barely touching the surface of the iceberg.”

The event’s expansion comes with the hope for increased revenue, not only from organizers but also from city leaders and local businesses.

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Tourism in the greater Springfield area contributed $395 million to the local economy, according to a 2016 report released by the state. Chris Schutte, the vice president of destination marketing and communications for the Chamber of Greater Springfield, said he anticipates that to grow to more than $400 million when the new report is released in July.

Given the event’s attendance, he estimated the American Powerboat Association event contributed up to $500,000 to the Clark County economy.

“It definitely had a great impact on the community,” he said.

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The Courtyard by Marriott in downtown Springfield, which works with the fairgrounds to host travelling officials and participants for events, said the hotel saw a big increase in traffic from the powerboat races. The block of rooms set aside for the event sold out quickly and the hotel itself ended up completely booked that weekend.

“We averaged about $9,000 per day in revenue during the event,” Assistant General Manager Ronnie Nichols said. “That was double what we did during the same weekend in 2016.”

The Marriott expects more growth this year, Nichols said.

“We’re totally anticipating more revenue,” she said. “There’s definitely a beneficial economic impact from these sorts of events.”

Chris Fairchild, the vice president of the American Powerboat Association, said the organization has been in talks to potentially bring a dedicated aquatic facility to the area, which would provide benefits both for the industry and the city. An open aquatic facility might allow for other sports, like water skiing, to come to the city, but would also be available to the public for other uses.

The thought of having a permanent establishment for powerboating is appealing, he said, because the sport hasn’t had an established home in its 100-year history.

“If money wasn’t an object, we’d be down there today,” Fairchild said. “But if we have to wait four, five, six years to make it happen, then we can do that.”

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B2B Motorsports owner and Springfield native Dana Potts said he and other organizers expect an even larger turnout thanks to the improvements that will be made over last year’s offerings.

“There’s going to be more opportunities to tailgate and more camping spots available,” he said. “We learned a lot from last year and we’re working to improve it overall.”

The event also will see expanded airtime on TV.

“Last year, we shared a 30-minute time slot with West Virginia in the national coverage,” Blair said. “This year, Springfield is going to have its own 30-minute show and we couldn’t be more excited about it.”

Potts said he’s excited for powerboats to make their return to the area, especially considering how well the event went last year.

“It went beyond everybody’s expectations across the board,” he said.

Springfield’s Grand Prix was the best first event in a new market for the APBA in the past decade, Potts said. Because of that, other organizations in the sport are now looking at Springfield as a potential site for even more events, he said.

“There’s a possibility for us to have a world championship there,” he said. “Springfield is the talk of the APBA.”

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There are opportunities for other individuals in the area to benefit as well, Potts said. If a dedicated center were to come to Springfield, it could generate business for manufacturers in the area, such as a powerboat manufacturer his company already has ties with in Bellefontaine.

More jobs and other organizations also have the potential to be built, including a manufacturing business in the city proper, he said.

“Would it be something like Navistar? No,” Potts said. “But it would definitely benefit Springfield in the long run.”

Anything coming from powerboating making its home in Springfield will give back to the community, Fairchild said.

“If we come to town and we just gobble money and gobble resources, then that just doesn’t work,” he said. “It wouldn’t just be something for us. Anything we would build there would have to benefit the community as well. It has to be a symbiotic relationship.”

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