Ohio Wesleyan University will bring some of the best athletes in the country to central Ohio in May when it hosts the NCAA Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
University officials have a clear message for area business owners ahead of the event: Get ready.
OWU Athletic Director Roger Ingles said between 1,200 and 1,300 athletes are expected to arrive in Delaware about May 20 for the event that runs May 22-24. He said between 12,000 and 15,000 people are expected to attend the championships at some point.
University officials said they believe a conservative estimate of the event's impact on the local economy will be about $2 million.
"It's really important to us to have this partnership with the city to drive folks downtown and bring them into the local community because they have a lot of time on their hands," Ingles said.
The event brings in local schools such as Capital and Denison universities and national powers such as the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
Ingles said he expects area hotels will be booked, with overflow accommodations available in the university's residence halls.
He said coaches, athletes and family members "swarmed upon" downtown restaurants nightly after competition wrapped up in 2011, the first time the university hosted the championships.
He said the demand at local restaurants was so great some of the establishments ran out of food.
"We've been working with downtown organizations to try to prepare them for athletes coming in large numbers and be able to book reservations and take care of them," Ingles said.
Frances Jo Hamilton, executive director of the nonprofit Main Street Delaware, said the university has been planning for the event with her group, the Delaware Area Chamber of Commerce and other agencies for the past few months.
"The planning meetings have really encapsulated everyone in the community," Hamilton said.
She agreed some of the city's businesses were a bit overwhelmed by the event in 2011.
"Our merchants had never really experienced that type of a crowd before," she said.
Hamilton said local restaurant owners have been advised to take steps to maximize their business during this year's championships -- from ordering more food and bringing in extra staff to staying open later.
In addition to giving information to local businesses, Hamilton said Main Street Delaware is also collecting feedback.
The group is compiling a list of restaurants that will take large-group reservations and carryout orders during the event. The list will be distributed to athletes and their family members.
The hiccups of 2011 must not have bothered the NCAA too much, Hamilton said, or it would not have returned to Delaware three years later.
She said NCAA officials told university officials they liked the proximity of the school's campus to downtown Delaware and the number of restaurants and businesses in the area.
Officials said they hope the city's downtown will have a festival-like atmosphere for participants and residents during the championships.
"This is our opportunity to show off Delaware and Ohio Wesleyan," Ingles said.
"We think it's got an impact because it really makes the city of Delaware a centerpiece for this exciting environment."