Business expected to boom with rooters, revelers in Pittsburgh

Jeremy Boren
| Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Hotel, restaurant and bar operators predict a slam-dunk weekend for sales when March Madness rolls into Pittsburgh on Thursday.

Add in the 100,000 revelers expected to crowd the Golden Triangle for the St. Patrick's Day parade on Saturday, the final day of the NCAA men's basketball regional tournament games here, and the region's economy could gain $7.1 million or more, tourism officials said.

Consol Energy Center will host second- and third-round games among eight teams set to play Thursday and Saturday.

"The hotel is just hopping when we have big events like this," said Bob Page, spokesman for Omni William Penn Hotel. "With both falling on the same weekend, it should be a lot of business."

People booked all rooms, except about 100 under renovation, through the weekend at the 596-room Downtown hotel, where players from Loyola and Kansas State universities are scheduled to stay.

Players from Southern Miss, UNC Asheville, Syracuse, Gonzaga, Ohio State and West Virginia will stay in five other hotels including the DoubleTree, Sheraton Station Square and Wyndham Grand, though NCAA officials have declined to specify where.

Crews laid hardwood, erected basketball hoops and closed out tickets sales at Consol, which can accommodate 18,450 fans for basketball. The event will draw more than 200 media representatives, arena officials said.

Consol, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins, will host the tournament for the first time since its 2010 opening. Mellon Arena hosted tournament games in 1997 and 2002.

Duquesne University teamed with tourism agency VisitPittsburgh and Consol officials in 2009 to successfully bid to bring the games to Pittsburgh this year.

Craig Davis, a VisitPittsburgh executive, said he believes about 3,000 people will stay in hotel rooms, many with double or triple occupancy. VisitPittsburgh and Duquesne officials estimated the $7.1 million economic impact based on hotel bookings, dining tab estimates and ticket sales.

Game tickets were sold as a package. Some tickets could become available after noon today, once teams return unsold allotments, said Phil Racicot, Duquesne's associate athletic director. Session passes would be $78, he said.

"With the bracket we have, Syracuse, Ohio State and WVU tickets are at a premium and will be hard to come by," he said.

Davis said the NCAA chose Pittsburgh because it successfully hosted the National Hockey League Winter Classic, Major League Baseball All-Star Game and Bassmaster Classic.

Its proximity to some of the schools that are playing helped, but Davis said that lowered the estimated economic impact because it means some fans live within a day's drive or could stay with family and friends.

Some West Virginia fans plan to do that. Mountaineer fans will rally on Thursday at the DoubleTree before the team plays Gonzaga at 7:20 p.m., according to the WVU Alumni Association.

"Our large alumni base in that area, coupled with our loyal fans that travel near and far to watch the Mountaineers play, will enable us to show our support for Coach (Bob) Huggins and his team," said Steve Douglas, the group's president and CEO.

Olive or Twist, a Downtown martini bar and lounge, booked daytime private events related to the tournament on Thursday and Friday but will open to the public in the evenings and at 9 a.m. Saturday for parade-goers, said Casey Walsh, a manager.

"We will be playing festive Irish music," she said.

David Greenberg, owner of Elements Contemporary Cuisine, said the restaurant will open at noon Saturday, five hours early, and restaurant staff will work extra hours.

"We like it. We expect walk-in business will spill over from Market Square," Greenberg said. "It's going to be a great weekend."

Tom Martini, general manager of the 616-room Westin, said the hotel booked all its rooms some time ago, but people might find openings later.

"When the team loses, a lot of fans go home before the end and cancel, so don't quit calling," he said.

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