Are there enough rooms for 400,000 cycling race visitors?

Posted at 12:11 AM, Mar 27, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-27 00:13:16-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- In just six months, several hundred thousand people are expected to visit the Richmond area for the 2015 World cycling championships.

“If we get 400,000 people, we will triple the population of the city of Richmond,” said Charles Samuels, 2nd District city councilman.

This in a metro area with 18,000 or so hotel rooms in the suburban area and another 40,000 or so in the region – from Charlottesville to Williamsburg.

Lee Kallman, vice president of marketing and development for Richmond 2015, says the math doesn’t really look all that bad.

Estimates are for 450,000 to come to the races during the nine days. (Last year’s rainy race in much-more remote Ponferrada, Spain, drew 200,000.)

“That includes you and I as well as people on the other side of the planet who are coming in for the race,” he said.

And not all will stay the whole time. If one person comes all nine days, that counts as nine spectators, he explained. Many of the million-plus local residents will be among spectators.

There’s also a strong network of cyclists here who will be hosting out-of-town and foreign guests, and lot of folks bring in friends and family, Kallman said.

And a big part of the event organization has been linking potential spectators to hotel services as early as possible.

A quick check downtown on Broad Street – a common route for all the races – shows the Hilton Garden Inn is already booked up that week of September. The Marriott across the street still has rooms, but midweek for the big races, the rates go up from $272 to $372 a night.

Kallman says those who wait for the last days or weeks to find accommodations may find themselves further from town.

Charles Samuels

Charles Samuels

Two city councilmen, Charles Samuels and Parker Agelasto (5th District) are wondering how many visitors will use online pay-to-stay services like airbnb, in which you can rent a local resident’s room or home, much like you can catch a ride with a citizen through pay-to-ride sites like Uber.

They want to city’s administration to take a position on how to approach the issue.

“What are we going to do to make sure people stay safe?” Samuels asked. “What are we going to do to make sure if any questions arise about liability, we know the answers?”

Should those who rent out rooms or their homes (much like families near Richmond International Raceway rent out their yards for parking during NASCAR races) have to pay taxes, he asked. If so, how should it be collected and monitored?

These are questions other cities are dealing with as the internet and social media reinvent how we eat, drive and visit, Samuels said.

“We want to make sure that this technology is used for good.”

Samuels also said the public safety arm in the city is already flexed for this prestigious event seen around the world. Asked if the painting, primping, planting and shining of the city will be done by race time, he said the city does that every year.