October 31, 2005 in City

‘King’ of commerce

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Christopher Anderson/ photo

While shoppers head back to the hotel with Pottery Barn bags on Saturday, others head into the Opera House for the opening show of “The Lion King.”
(Full-size photo)

The pasta is cooked and ready to be smothered in clam sauce. The hotel rooms are cleared and cleaned. Transportation services are gassed up and ready to go.

It’s showtime, Spokane!

And it’s not just for the cast and crew of the “The Lion King,” who are part of the biggest theatrical event in the city’s history. Restaurant, hotel and business owners, especially those within shouting distance of the Spokane Opera House, are ready for what they hope will be their longest consecutive financial bonanza.

“It’s kind of weird. Everyone is psyched up for it in the kitchen,” said Arthur Levin, longtime chef at Luigi’s Italian Restaurant, one block south from the Opera House at 245 W. Main.

While Saturday night brought a usual steady customer flow – which amounted to more than 250 meals served – bookkeeper Norma Norton said the true test will be on the normally slower Sundays.

“I just booked six people for tonight,” Norton said, after Sunday afternoon patrons cleared out in time to make the show’s matinee.

At nearby Chili’s, managing partner Scott Cook added: “I have people calling from the Tri-Cities, asking if they can make reservations for 100 people.”

Lyndsay Kerr, co-owner of the Italian Kitchen at 113 N. Bernard St., said she and her husband, Bryce, have stepped up their advertising in anticipation of a profitable run.

According to Jack Lucas, vice president of WestCoast Entertainment, the basic guideline is that for every dollar spent on a Broadway ticket, $2 makes its way into the city’s economy. He estimated the money spent in Spokane will be between $12 million and $15 million.

“And that’s a conservative estimate,” said Lucas, who booked the show as part of the 2005-06 “Best of Broadway” series.

Lucas said about 85 percent of 119,000 tickets have been sold for the six-week, 46-show performance. The theater seats about 2,600. Good tickets still are available; however some shows are sold out, according to a telephone operator with the ticket agency. The upcoming matinee and night performances for this Saturday, for example, are sold out.

According to Lucas, about half of the audience for all the shows are people who live more than 100 miles away. Out-of-town visitors translate into hotel stays, eating out and shopping, and everyone seems to be getting into the act. The Ridpath Hotel, Red Lion Hotel at the Park and Red Lion River Inn – all part of the same corporate kingdom as TicketsWest – are selling ticket packages.

At the more affordable Travelodge, 33 W. Spokane Blvd., Wayne A. Paupst, director of operations, has taken “The Lion King” entrepreneurship into his own hands. Paupst laid out $19,000 of company money to buy 200 Saturday matinee and evening performance tickets. He sold nine ticket packages for the first Saturday and is sold out of packages for other Saturdays. He sold one bus tour for 50 people from Kelowna, British Columbia.

“In the past, we’ve had Broadway productions, but ‘The Lion King’ is a whole new ballgame,” Paupst said.

The Davenport Hotel, 10 S. Post St., is adding to the leonine excitement with a mask and costume display. “The Lion King” artifacts are displayed in the lobby and the art gallery until Nov. 30. The hotel also is providing its guest transportation to and from the theater.

“It’s obviously very positive,” said Dean Feldmeier, general manager at the DoubleTree Hotel, 322 N. Spokane Falls Court. “The fact that this is such a popular show with such a long run multiplies the impact on everybody.”

The DoubleTree benefited from the show even before opening night. The hotel, a parking lot away from the Opera House, has 28 rooms that are occupied by show members. About 120 cast, crew and orchestra members are living in Spokane for about six weeks. Feldmeier also anticipates the hotel’s popular Spencer’s for Steaks and Chops restaurant will have a banner run. The 100-seat restaurant was full on Saturday, which was the official opening night after three preview performances.

Luigi’s owner Marty Hogberg said he plans to set up a late-night menu for the crew. He also has “The Lion King” specials, such as free hot fudge sundaes with kids’ meals and other deals.

“We’re looking at it as roughly 45 days of Friday-night sales,” Hogberg said.

While restaurants welcome the added traffic, there is concern over parking.

Azteca Mexican Restaurant, 245 Spokane Falls Blvd., has room for 290 customers. Manager Didio Correia and hostess Valerie Sherman see parking as a tricky situation. Patrons can usually get in and out by paying $3 in the large adjacent Diamond Parking lot. The price increases to $10 and $12 for special events.

Sherman worries that after the theater rush clears, other potential customers won’t want to pay the extra cost for parking. However, William Webster, owner of Herbal Essence Café, 115 N. Washington, whose patrons can use street meters, has plans to work through the problem.

“It (the theater crowd) takes a little away from our parking, but we always have that problem,” said Webster, who opened the 67-seat café four years ago. “It’s still big for us. It’s been real good so far.”


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