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PENTICTON - The past 10 days provided Penticton with an ideal opportunity to strut its stuff on the world stage, as it was transformed into a cosmopolitan city where foreign languages could be heard on any downtown street corner.
City officials, staff, and businesses are echoing those sentiments today, Aug. 28, following the conclusion of the Penticton ITU Multisport Championship Festival yesterday.
The event has had mixed blessings for city businesses and residents, however, as road closures played havoc to some main street businesses and wineries, and interfered with residents’ work schedules.
Penticton Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said Penticton prides itself on its ability to run a triathlon, calling it the city’s “signature event.”
“We’ve got 35 years of experience doing triathlon, but this was special, with 40 countries participating. It reintroduced Penticton as a premier destination, not just to relax in but to train. The athletes were blown away by how nice the area and city is, and the friendliness of the people,” he said, adding it was unique to hear so many different dialects in the city.
Jakubeit said the economic impact of the event would be interesting to know, noting in spite of models available to assess economic impact, the models were still “guesstimates.”
“It’s hard to measure the impact of 3,000 plus athletes and their guests' impact on the local economy on the days before, during and after the event. How many repeat visitors will we see in the future as a result of this one event? It would be interesting to find out what it’s really worth,” he said.
On the negative side, Jakubeit noted the issues many residents experienced with road closures, parking and communications.
Anecdotally, the mayor described one irate resident who ended up stuck in traffic from a road closure who called him every 15 minutes to let the mayor know his progress.
“We need to be more involved in planning and communication around road closures. The city has operated under the assumption the organizer will go out and issue all the proper communication, with no parameters. It needs fine tuning, to help mitigate the frustration,” he said of the city’s policy.
He said the city would be discussing the issues later this week during a debriefing session with festival organizers.
City of Penticton Chief Administrative Officer Peter Weeber said its been a “whirlwind 10 days” for the city.
“There were so many positives. Some of the challenges included communications around street closures, traffic control, identifying alternate routes for traffic, impacts on businesses resulting from closures. Those are things we’ll be spending time reviewing and trying to find better ways to do,” he said, adding communication in general needs to be improved and the city become more involved in event such as this.
“Events that impact our businesses need to be properly notified,” he said.
Weeber said one of the most profound impacts the festival had on him was the sight and sound of so many different nationalities on Penticton streets over the past 10 days.
“That was an amazing experience,” he said.
City Councillor Helena Konanz called the festival “an amazing event.”
“When are we going to get that many people from so many different countries?” she asked, noting she’d heard great things about the city and region from visiting athletes and their entourages.
“It’s everything we imagined an international event could be in Penticton. We couldn’t buy better publicity,” she said.
Konanz noticed some vacancy signs on downtown hotels around mid-week, speculating some athletes may have only stayed for the initial events, but says restaurants and accommodations businesses would not likely have any issues with the way the week went, economically.
Konanz also heard complaints from a number of constituents over road closures, noting some bad traffic situations developed from the looped courses set up for the running and cycling events.
“There were more disruptions for people during the weekdays than we are typically used to when these events ran on Sunday,” she said.
Still, people in Naramata and Uplands, and along Eastside Road had difficulties accessing their homes during the distance event Sunday,” she noted.
Konanz said the city was aware of the more challenging nature a multi-day schedule of road closures would present, adding it was difficult for residents to keep up with them on a daily basis.
“Some businesses said there were slow times, but the rest of the time was great business,” she said.
Downtown Penticton Association Executive Director Lynn Allin said she spoke to many of the association’s members last week.
“It was a well received event. There was a lot of excitement of having so many foreign athletes here,” she said.
“Restaurants and some of our shops did very well. Many of our market vendors on Saturday did well, not everybody, but lots of people did call to say they had their best Saturday ever,” she said.
Allin said the majority of concerns centred around road closures. The association worked with the International Triathlon Union to provide businesses with information as to road closures and best ways to access their business.
“The city and ITU worked hard to ensure there were ways for people to access business, but things weren’t crystal clear. The information was there, we just had to get it out to people,” she said, adding it was the general intent to make sure everyone’s business had an avenue for access.
Allin said it also depended on what people were selling, noting many athletes had no way to ship large items, opting for smaller sized purchases of things they could pack in their luggage.
“Restaurants did really well, some retailers were disappointed because the things they were selling weren’t items in demand by the athletes,” she said.
“You can’t guarantee what people will want to purchase. Penticton doesn’t have a model for a festival like this, and anytime you have an event this large, some people are going to do very well, others may not do as well as they’d hoped,” she said.
Penticton Multisport ITU Championships media contact Holly Bird says the organization was “absolutely thrilled” with the way the event went.
“There’s obviously going to be hiccups and bumps along the way, but we feel we have a lot to celebrate as a team and as a city team, too,” she said.
Bird says 3,500 athletes raced a total of 5,000 times over the week, some engaging in multiple events.
She said multisport saw a lot of evidence of people stretching out their time in Penticton, noting the multiple events included in the festival made it more convenient for them to do that.
“The hope was people would come and spend time in the area as well in Penticton, which is exactly what were seeing,” she said.
On the negative side, Bird says multisport was aware of issues surrounding traffic and access to business.
“We always try to do our very best to put together a comprehensive traffic plan, with tiers of communication around closures,” she said, adding nothing is bulletproof. No matter how much notification is put out, it can be missed, or overlooked by residents who suddenly come upon a road closure.
“It’s unfortunate, but it happens everywhere,” she says.
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