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World Police, Fire Games had healthy economic impact

© Leesburg Today - 07/31/2015

Officials say the 2015 World Police & Fire Games netted $83.8 million in economic benefits for Northern Virginia.

The athletes have gone home and local public-safety personnel have returned to their regular work, but area leaders continue to bask in the warm feelings and cold, hard cash generated by the 2015 World Police & Fire Games.

The Games, which ran from June 26 through July 5, brought in about $83.85 million worth of economic benefit to the Washington region, event organizers told the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors July 28.

That figure includes $49.24 million in direct economic benefits, plus about $34.61 million in ""induced effects,"" said Barry Biggar, president of the Fairfax County Convention and Visitors Corp., aka Visit Fairfax.

""Not too bad"" for an event lasting 10 days, he added.

Officials based those figures on preliminary forecasts by Tourism Economics, a division of Oxford Economics. The economic-impact numbers were slightly lower than what organizers estimated when courting the Games, but Biggar emphasized backers did not than know how many participants would hail from the local area.

The figures listed are conservative and do not include spending by volunteers (who received 17,000 complimentary meals) or overnight stays by area participants hailing from Virginia, Maryland and District of Columbia, although some of those instances did occur, he said.

Analysts based their figures on Fairfax County's 6-percent hotel-occupancy and sales-tax rates, which often are lower than those of surrounding jurisdictions, Biggar said. Unlike some of those localities, Fairfax County does not have a meals tax, he added.

Figures are not available yet on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis and will be tough to calculate. For example, participants might have stayed at hotels in Prince William County, but attended events (and spent money) in Fairfax County, Biggar said.

Supervisors honored the Games' organizers with encomiums and a commemorative plaque and in return received gifts of metal ceremonial torches and framed medals with ribbons.

""Only 170 of these will ever be made,"" said Biggar, holding up one of the medals, ""so 20 years from now, I do not want to see this on eBay. And if I do, I'll be sure to put in the highest bid.""

There were 10,006 athletes from around the world (2,008 from Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.,) who participated in the Games. Events were held at 52 venues across the region, approximately 70 percent of which were in Fairfax County.

Based on the Games' success, Fairfax County officials now will pursue the 2019 National Senior Games, Biggar said.

Supervisors said the World Police & Fire Games not only gave the region an economic boost, but bolstered its reputation.

""The importance is in the creativity that is spawned between people and the connections between people,"" said Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock).

Supervisor Penelope Gross (D-Mason) noted how thrilled local officials had been in 1998 when Fairfax County hosted the World Congress on Information Technology.

""We thought that was a great 'get' and that was going to put us on the map,"" she recalled. ""But that was nothing compared to the World Police & Fire Games.""

Bill Knight, the Games' president and CEO, said Fairfax County's ""all-in effort"" had boosted recognition of the Games, in which participants received about 4,500 medals. Nearly 6,000 local volunteers registered to help with the events and organizers called on the services of about 3,500 of them, he said.

In addition to the public-private partnership, vast amount of in-kind contributions and volunteer efforts, area police, fire and sheriff's departments helped make the Games a success, Knight said.

""It was the unity, the commitment and the professionalism demonstrated by our own public-safety agencies that truly had us standing back and admiring,"" he said. ""They elevated themselves.""

Event leaders mourned the death of 48-year-old police investigator Carlos Silva of Brazil, who was killed July 2 during a bicycle race in Dumfries, but ""we did all the right things to handle the situation,"" Knight added.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova (D) still marveled at the Games' excitement level -- ""That opening ceremony at RFK Stadium? Holy cow!"" -- but said local athletes competing in the Games in 2017 in Montreal should invest in proper foot gear for the tug of war event.

""As soon as the Norwegians marched onto the field here at the Government Center, we knew we were toast,"" Bulova said, wincing at the memory of seeing U.S. competitors wearing sneakers and flip-flops. ""It was over before it began.""

County leaders will host a barbecue at the Government Center on Aug. 11 to celebrate the Games' success.

""I think the lessons learned, the camaraderie established and the pride are not over,"" Gross said. ""Now my only thought would be, Boston has pulled out of the Olympics . . .""

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