The business of Antietam

September 09, 2002|by JULIE E. GREENE

The 140th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Antietam this weekend could pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into the local community as more than 13,000 re-enactors and as many as 70,000 spectators are expected for the three-day event if the weather is good, organizers said.

Robert Arch, co-chairman of the organizing sponsor the Antietam Commemoration Committee, anticipates $500,000 to $1 million will be spent here during the three-day event.

How much impact the event will have on the local economy depends largely on the weather, said Ben Hart, executive director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.


"If we could have a weekend like we had this past weekend that would be great. Nice and cool and overcast," Hart said.

Hart said it was hot during the re-enactment five years ago that drew approximately 70,000 spectators.

"As long as it's dry, I think we're going to be in good shape," said Hart, who took over the reins of the tourism office just four weeks before the 135th anniversary re-enactment.

Approximately 6,000 tickets have been sold to the event, roughly the same number presold before the 1997 re-enactment, Antietam Commemoration Committee Co-chairman Dennis Frye said.

Arch estimated more than 13,000 re-enactors have registered to participate, though final numbers were not available. The deadline for re-enactors to register was Aug. 30.

Frye expects three-fourths of the re-enactors to camp at the re-enactment site along Rench Road.

Arriving this week

The command staff was to arrive over the weekend with regular re-enactors trickling in during the week, but most aren't expected to start arriving until Thursday and Friday, Frye said.

Their spending will most benefit the on-site nonprofit groups selling food and drinks and the sutlers selling period ware, Frye said.

Some family members will stay in hotels, but many will stay at the civilian re-enactor campground at the re-enactment site, Frye said. Because civilian re-enactors cannot stay overnight at military re-enactor campgrounds, some "soldiers" will stay at the civilian campground to be with their families, he said.

Many re-enactors also will buy gasoline, go to fast-food restaurants and buy local souvenirs, Frye said.

Hart cautioned about determining an economic impact from a single event for which tourism officials don't know how many hotel rooms were reserved.

"I'm not trying to downplay the importance of this at all," Hart said.

Hotel occupancy in Washington County in September is already around 70 to 73 percent, Hart said.

Arch said he's "gotta believe" that the bulk of the county's 2,300 hotel rooms are being filled for the re-enactment.

"Just from talking to people, they're renting hotels, so there's a huge amount there," Arch said.

"How much people are going to spend on food? It's hard to say," Arch said.

Tourism estimates

According to the Maryland Office of Tourism, a family of two spent $161 for an almost two-day stay in Western Maryland in 2000.

Hart said he had "little faith" in those numbers when it comes to local spending. The written and telephone surveys the state conducts hold more truth on a statewide level, he said.

The average daily rate for a hotel room in Washington County through June was $59.16, Hart said.

Local hotel rooms were expected to be sold out, so tourism officials would refer spectators to hotels in the surrounding Tri-State area.

Tourism Council of Frederick County (Md.) Director John Fiedler said he expected a lot of hotel rooms to be booked for the re-enactment once rooms sold out in Washington County. Frederick County has about 2,000 rooms.

Besides an immediate infusion of money into the community, Hart said the real value of the event is the exposure Washington County will receive from the re-enactors and tourists visiting the county.

Re-enactors will be given bags of tourism information and coupons from the Valley Mall and Prime Outlets at Hagerstown, Frye said.

"They will be encouraged to go and spend money with discount coupons in the local stores," Frye said.

Valley Mall Marketing Director Julie Simmons said she hopes tourists visiting the re-enactment will shop at the mall and return in the future to shop there again.

Simmons said she hopes to see mall traffic increase 15 percent that weekend. That translates into 17,000 more people combined on Saturday and Sunday.

Since the outlets opened in August 1998, mall traffic has increased as more people are making Hagerstown their destination, Simmons said. The re-enactment could reinforce that trend because it will draw people from outside the local area, she said.

Other new businesses in the area since the 135th anniversary re-enactment include the Sleep Inn, Cracker Barrel restaurant, Waffle House and Sheetz gasoline and convenience store, all along Sharpsburg Pike.

Battlefield visitors

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