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Business impact is $60M Open question

| Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Ian Taylor picked his spot well.

The Riverview High School junior leaned forward in a black-and-red folding chair, the shadow of a tall pine tree beside Third Avenue in Oakmont protecting him from the sun's heat.

For the next three days, he'll continue guarding a parking lot entrance, giving directions to hordes of drivers headed for the U.S. Open and earning his slice of the nearly $60 million the golf tournament is expected to bring to the region.

"It's pretty good," Taylor said of his $8 hourly salary.

About 40,000 spectators are expected to converge on Oakmont Country Club and its namesake town, a hillside hamlet of about 6,600 along the Allegheny River. The tournament is expected to generate between $58.6 million and $59.7 million, said Joe McGrath, president of the Greater Pittsburgh Convention & Visitors Bureau.

About $16 million of that is expected to be spent on food and drinks, McGrath said.

The rush began Monday, the first day of practice rounds for the U.S. Open, at What's Cookin at Casey's, an Italian restaurant among the row of shops on Allegheny Avenue in the heart of Oakmont's quaint business district.

"It's been wonderful," said the restaurant's owner, Rose Henry. Business almost doubled in the restaurant, she said. "There have been a lot of new faces."

The Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Pittsburgh last year brought about $30 million to the region, McGrath said. People in town for the U.S. Open are expected to spend almost as much -- $28 million -- on lodging. Some have booked rooms as far away as Greensburg and Youngstown, Ohio, he said.

Others have fared a bit better. Homeowners from Oakmont to Fox Chapel scheduled vacations around the tournament, leaving their homes to make room for renters who've paid $1,500 to $28,000 for the week, said Connie Rusek-Lichok, a real estate broker with Bechman Realty in Springdale.

"I've got a new appreciation for hotel management," said Rusek-Lichok, her voice hoarse from handling a deluge of last-minute rental requests and offers from homeowners trying to capitalize on the region's weeklong real estate boom. "I have almost 200 (houses) listed on the Web site, and another 600 have called in, wanting to rent their houses."

Late rental requests came mostly from golfers and caddies who only recently qualified for the tournament, Rusek-Lichok said.

"Some of these people ... are moving their family on three or four days' notice," Rusek-Lichok said.

About 22,000 hotel rooms are booked in the area around Pittsburgh, McGrath said. Those closest to the course filled the quickest.

The Oakmont Hotel, an 11-room hotel and restaurant about 1.5 miles from the golf course, ran out of rooms about two months ago, said owner Joseph Peterman. Those lucky enough to get a room paid Peterman's regular rate of about $50 a night, he said.

Business isn't booming everywhere in the town, however. Shuttle buses -- some rented from school bus companies cashing in on the Open -- cruise past Allegheny Avenue on trips between parking lots and the golf course, and some regular customers of local shops have been scared off by the traffic.

Ron Kotwica, owner of Mr. Nice Guy Games, makes most of his money from a dedicated group of regulars -- enthusiasts of the card and role-playing games for which he sells supplies and hosts tournaments. Many told Kotwica they're not planning to brave the traffic this week, he said.

"I'm going to give it a few days, but I might have to shut down" for the week, Kotwica said.

The trickle of customers in Today's Market, a health food store nearby, was about the normal amount of weekday traffic, said cashier Claudia Tauro, 56, of Rosedale.

"We're definitely hoping it gets better," Tauro said. "It remains to be seen."

Additional Information:

U.S. Open for business

The U.S. Open golf tournament at Oakmont Country Club is expected to generate $58.6 million to $59.7 million for the local economy. Here's an expected breakdown:

$28 million -- lodging

$16 million -- food and beverage sales

$5.6 million -- shopping

$4.4 million -- transportation

$2.6 million -- entertainment

$2 million -- miscellaneous spending

Source: Greater Pittsburgh Convention & Visitors Bureau

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