Two Ironman triathlons in Sonoma County yield $20 million windfall for local economy
About a week before the first Ironman event of 2019 comes to Santa Rosa in May, Kevin Buchholz’s cycle shop in Railroad Square starts to receive shipments of disassembled, high-end triathlon bikes from all over the world.
The crew at Buchholz’s Echelon Cycle & Multisport puts the bikes back together and tunes them to prime condition for the popular event, a grueling long-distance race that includes swimming, cycling and running.
The shop provides shipping services to a couple dozen triathletes among the nearly 4,000 entrants expected to compete in the full Ironman next month, covering 140.6 miles, and the shorter Ironman event here in July that’s half that distance. Another 60 to 80 triathletes who travel with their own bikes bring them into the Echelon Cycle shop for servicing or fine tuning.
The business Buchholz does during the two Ironman endurance competitions represents a small portion of the $20 million economic windfall the contests provided for the city and Sonoma County in 2018, according to a new independent report. The report, commissioned by the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber, found that the two sporting events attracted nearly 14,000 visitors to the county.
“We’re not the only (cycle) shop that’s busy,” said Buchholz, adding the benefits of the Ironman far outweigh any inconveniences, particularly street closures.
“It’s only a few days, maybe a week in the year,” he said. “I just think it’s a great event for our economy. People come here from all over the world and spend money.”
The Ironman events have been hosted by Santa Rosa for the past two years, as part of a five-year deal that moved the then-named Ironman Vineman series from Windsor to Santa Rosa. This year, the full Ironman Santa Rosa is set for May 11, while the shorter contest is slated for July 27.
According to the chamber’s report, the total direct and indirect economic impact of the full Ironman is $9.1 million plus another $11 million for the second event. In 2018, the longer Ironman drew 1,508 athletes and 3,670 visiting spectators, while the shorter one attracted 2,486 athletes and 5,971 visiting spectators.
The local economic spillover from the two races far exceeded city officials’ expectations of $13 million in countywide economic activity.
“I’m thrilled with it. I love events that bring people downtown,” Santa Rosa Mayor Tom Schwedhelm said.
Not surprisingly, the half-Ironman event brings more participants and thus more visitors. Last year, each triathlete came here with a group of about 3.4 people on average, according to the economic impact report.
In terms of lodging, the participants and spectators for both events paid for 22,772 overnight room stays. That brought in $2.6 million for area hotels, motels and resorts, another $2.8 million to owners of vacation rental properties and $27,479 for campground stays.
The total for taxes and fees collected for overnight lodging, sales tax, airline passenger facility fees and rental car fees were almost $1.5 million, according to the report.
For Buchholz’s shop, servicing triathletes’ bikes is only part of the revenue he generates during the Ironman races.
“They each spend a few hundred on labor and parts,” he said of participants. “But for each event, we see a spike in sales of around $25,000 to $35,000.”