An estimated 22,000 athletes from 80 nations aren't the only ones bringing muscle to the Arnold Sports Festival March 5-8 in central Ohio.

CORRECTION: Because of a reporter's error, the print and previous online versions of this story listed an incorrect number of rooms for the Renaissance Columbus hotel. It has 222 rooms.

An estimated 22,000 athletes from 80 nations aren't the only ones bringing muscle to the Arnold Sports Festival March 5-8 in central Ohio.

An estimated 200,000 people visiting the event pump up business in downtown Columbus and its suburbs, contributing $53 million to the economy and filling 18,000 hotel rooms, said Brian Ross, president and CEO of Experience Columbus.

"With the suburban properties, it's not just (motels) but restaurants and the different bars and shopping and things of that sort," Ross said.

Anytime Columbus' downtown area is full, he said, it brings opportunities to such suburbs as Westerville, Worthington and Gahanna.

"They do about 18,000 room nights total, which is large," Ross said. "The only other event that brings more people through is the (American) Quarter Horse Congress. But that lasts for a month."

He said the Arnold has become part of the community.

"It started out as bodybuilding," he said. "It has become the largest multisport event in the world. All that started here in Columbus. It's a very international event."

Getting noticed

Gahanna Mayor Laurie Jadwin, former director of Visit Gahanna, said central Ohio is home to many high-profile events, including the Arnold, that generate a significant economic impact.

"During their stay, participants in, and visitors to, the festival invest in our area by booking air flights and hotel rooms, eating in restaurants, patronizing local retail shops and more," she said. "Throughout the weekend, the Arnold Sports Festival will infuse millions of dollars into the Columbus region through direct and indirect spending by visitors."

Jadwin said the ability to attract a worldwide event such as the Arnold adds to the region's stature as a destination for the hottest festivals, events, concerts and attractions.

"The city's recent successful hosting of the ASAE (American Society of Association Executives) convention in 2019 further enhanced and reinforced Columbus' credibility and reputation as an ideal location for corporate conventions and meetings," she said. "Events like these continue to support jobs, generate tax revenue, and generate economic impact through the Columbus region, as well as in our own Gahanna community."

Jadwin said Gahanna's annual Creekside Blues & Jazz Festival draws more than 32,000 attendees to the city from 13 states, annually generating more than $100,000 in free promotion for the city and local businesses, and driving room nights in Gahanna hotels.

She said Gahanna's festival infuses more than $250,000 into the community through direct and indirect spending.

Rooms filling up

Two weeks prior to this year's Arnold Sports Festival, Anis Qarni, general manager of the Holiday Inn Express & Suites at Gahanna/Columbus Airport East, 460 Waterbury Court, said the 93-room facility was 60% booked.

He said the event affects every hotel in a 35-mile area.

"We get people coming in for the events," Qarni said. "When downtown (Columbus) is full, we get the overflow. There are some new hotels downtown. We'll see how it goes.

"The week before, we get full. Downtown is booked the year before," Qarni said.

Ralph Mordocco, general manager of Renaissance Columbus, 409 Altair Parkway in Westerville and a Visit Westerville board of trustees member, said the facility sold out during last year's festival.

"I wasn't here last year when the Arnold was in town," he said. "From what I understand, looking at reports and numbers, we ended up doing pretty well."

The Polaris area, in general, attracts people from the Arnold because of the restaurants and shopping options, according to Mordocco.

"We definitely see an uptick in occupancy that weekend. On a typical weekend, business is usually transient. The Arnold is citywide. It's a large draw for the market. When we have weddings, social events and sporting events on the weekend, we do well. On OSU (Ohio State University) football weekends, we do well. Outside of that, there's little draw to bring people to the north side of Columbus on the weekend," Mordocco said.

He said the Renaissance has 222 rooms.

"On a (Arnold Sports Festival) weekend, it's hard to tell who's with Arnold. We just don't have our hand on the pulse as far as who's (from what event). We did sell out that weekend last year," he said.

Occupying venues

Lexi Sweet, public-relations manager at Experience Columbus, said the Arnold uses 14 venues across the city for various competitions, with the Greater Columbus Convention Center, 400 N. High St., and Ohio Expo Center, 717 E. 17th Ave., being the two main hubs of activity.

Ross said he's thankful event organizers have chosen to keep the festival in Columbus.

"They could have taken it to Vegas or another coast," he said.

"Our community is very thankful for that. The great part about it is how they expanded and incorporated the Expo Center. They have really focused on kids and fitness."

Ross said the festival helps introduce children to fitness and competitive events.

"They continue to use the most venues in our community, compared to any other group we work with," he said.

Admission to the Arnold, most events at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, the Arnold SportsWorld Kids & Teens Expo and all events at the Ohio Expo Center are included in the daily Expo ticket that costs $20 each in advance or $25 at the door.

Tickets at the Ohio Expo Center are $20 at the door on event weekend.

Children ages 14 and under are admitted free.

Parking at the Ohio Expo Center will be $10.

Free shuttles will run from the Ohio Expo Center to the Greater Columbus Convention Center from March 6 to 8.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla