Hundreds of the region’s best youth figure skaters are competing right now in Warwick, taking to the ice at Thayer Arena. The New England Regional Figure Skating Championships, hosted by the Warwick Figure Skaters, started on Friday and conclude today. The best skaters from this competition will advance to the sectional championships in Hyannis, which feed into the nationals in Nebraska in December.
But for now, the best of the best are on Warwick ice, bringing their talent to the rink and an economic boon to the city.
About 180 athletes came to compete in the five-day-long competition, bringing with them coaches, family members, friends and supporters. Forty-five judges were also brought in from across the region, flying into T.F. Green and staying at the Hampton Inn & Suites. Though the budget for the event covers the travel and lodging expenses of the judges, the competitors and those who accompany them must provide their own meals, hotels and travel.
Karen Jedson, executive director of the Warwick Department of Economic Development, said the competition was a “fabulous event” to have in the city. Jedson said they estimate a total of 1,555 hotel rooms were booked during the duration of the event, which means great things for local restaurants, convenience stores, gas stations, retail and more.
“The multiplier effect takes place,” she said.
Though Jedson doesn’t have any ballpark estimates for how much revenue the event will circulate into the local economy, she said it will likely exceed expectations. The other bonus is that this event could lead to other, larger events in the future, done in partnership with cities like Providence. The result is the same, but on a grander scale – a boost for the local economic climate.
Lauren Slocum, president and CEO of the Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber is excited to welcome groups and events like the championships to the state.
“The excitement experienced by the competitors is shared by their neighbors back home, which helps to create additional visibility for Warwick,” she said. “The competitors, their friends and family visit, shop and dine in our local establishments, helping our local economy.”
Though some of the competitors are from Rhode Island, the bulk of them are from Massachusetts, said Don McKenzie, U.S. Figure Skating ice technician and longtime member of Warwick Figure Skaters. There are also competitors from the other New England states.
McKenzie and those on the Warwick Figure Skaters board have been planning this competition for just over a year, which is when they were informed their bid for the competition had been selected.
McKenzie said U.S Figure Skating puts out notices for each event, asking for bids from local organizing committees across the country. In Rhode Island, local skating organizations hold large events like this quite regularly, with many of them occurring at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence. Thayer Arena is typically used as practice ice, but not for this competition. Yesterday, both the senior and novice ladies’ divisions took to the ice, hoping for a spot at the sectional competition in Hyannis. McKenzie said the last time they hosted this competition at Thayer Arena was in 1991.
Already, McKenzie is planning their next big event, which he hopes to be a synchronized teams competition held at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in 2014. He put in the bid, and said he’ll know within a month if Rhode Island has been selected.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” he said.
Though they have 92 volunteers staffing the competition daily from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. or later, the operating costs of an event like this week’s aren’t small.
“The expenses are high, high,” said McKenzie, who said the event could “easily cost $150,000.” For the larger events, like the one he hopes to host in 2014, the price tag could be $400,000.
But the returns are great, too. McKenzie estimates that the larger events circulate $2 million to $3 million into the local economy.
McKenzie said finding sponsorship to cover the cost in the poor economic climate, however, has not been easy. Kent Hospital is the event’s presenting sponsor, and iParty also partially sponsored the event.
Care New England COO and Kent Hospital CEO Sandra L. Coletta said Kent Hospital is glad to be sponsoring the event.
"As a proud member of the community for more than 60 years, we are dedicated to our family, friends, neighbors and residents ensuring they have access to the best possible health care,” said Coletta in a statement. “Today, as we welcome competitors and visitors alike for this prestigious competition, know this commitment to community remains stronger than ever and Kent's involvement in this championship is just one of many ways we work daily to give back to our region and the state.”
McKenzie said the rest of the funding for this week’s event comes from ticket sales, entry fees of roughly $150 per skater and a several thousand-dollar stipend from U.S. Figure Skating.
Mayor Scott Avedisian said he is pleased to have such an event taking place in Warwick.
“As home to the Warwick Figure Skaters, we are well aware that this event brings together some of our region’s most talented and dedicated athletes for what is sure to be some spirited competition,” said Avedisian in a statement. “We wish all of the skaters the best for a successful and memorable weekend. This also provides a wonderful opportunity to showcase the many great qualities of our city and state. I hope our visitors will have time to explore some of what makes the Ocean State so special.”
And they did. At yesterday’s portion of the competition, one woman sought to take a break from all of the ice.
“Where’s the most beautiful beach around here?” she asked those at the information desk. Their pick? Oakland Beach.