The digital clock behind the Davenport Hotel’s front desk has been counting down for weeks, ticking off the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the start of the State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
Today the clock hit zero, and with it months (for some people, years) of local preparation gave way to the real thing – hordes of highly anticipated figure skaters, officials and fans arriving in town in need of beds, food, makeovers, transportation and fun.
“The enthusiasm is rocking, I definitely feel it,” said Lynn Plage of U.S. Figure Skating’s public relations staff.
Plage flew into town last week to help with preparations and says she’s never seen a host city as excited as Spokane.
As each day passes, more businesses have been decorating their storefronts with paintings, lights and banners, said Marla Oleniacz of the Downtown Spokane Partnership.
“Some of the things were more than I could have expected,” Oleniacz said. “People put their own creativity into it.”
Event organizer Star USA was determined to present Spokane as a welcoming city for skaters, officials and fans, distributing boxes of “skater friendly” buttons to local businesses.
The welcome mat is unrolled as soon as participants arrive at Spokane International Airport.
“The airport fulfills a role as a regional host and has an obligation to create a positive first and last impression on thousands of visitors each day,” said Todd Woodard, the airport’s director of marketing and public relations.
Skating banners decorate the freshly remodeled terminal and volunteers will assist visitors from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. during the skating event.
Skater-friendly restaurants, shops and activities are highlighted on pocket-size maps sponsored by the Spokane Transit Authority. The maps offer detailed information about STA shuttle routes and schedules.
Nothing like that was circulated by Portland when it played host city in 2005, said Toby Steward of Star USA.What’s more, fans there were left on their own when it was time to dine, he said, with attendees finding snack and entertainment options lacking after events. Spokane organizers struck early to combat that complaint, and many downtown restaurants are extending their hours to offer post-event dining.
STA is offering two shuttle bus routes circulating between the two skating venues and downtown hotels and restaurants. Buses will run every 10 minutes starting early in the morning and running until after the last event of the night.
The cost is 50 cents a ride or $10 for an eight-day pass. Passes can also be used on other STA bus routes.
STA timed the purchase of several new stretch, accordion buses to coincide with the figure skating event since large numbers of people will likely be catching rides at the same peak times.
The Downtown Spokane Partnership is the force behind a citywide decorating project that’s responsible for colorful street banners, skating posters and skywalks adorned with skating images.
Volunteer artists painted murals in several storefront windows and some of downtown’s larger buildings are bathed in red, white and blue lights.
Local folks who don’t have tickets but see all the hubbub and want to immerse themselves in the skating atmosphere can visit FanFest, a free gathering spot inside the Spokane Convention Center with skating apparel and souvenirs, food and drink.
The Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture is exhibiting skating costumes, gold medals, trophies and other ephemera on loan from the World Figure Skating Museum and Hall of Fame.
To prepare hospitality staff for visitors’ questions about other fun activities in Spokane, the Spokane Convention and Visitors Bureau put together educational field trips. About 200 people participated, learning local history and folklore between visits to museums, malls, wineries and other hot spots.
Meanwhile, preparations at the skating venues – the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena and the Spokane Convention Center – have been intense.
Crews spent last week preparing the ice, hanging lights and installing back-up electrical systems.
“Our task is to make sure it goes as well as it possibly can,” said Public Facilities District Executive Director Kevin Twohig.
Just in case catastrophe strikes on the ice, Group Health doctors have been preparing for the event, amassing medical supplies and preparing schedules.
Medical venues are being readied at the Arena, the Group Health Exhibit Hall, the Doubletree Hotel and at Group Health Riverfront Medical Center.
Twelve physicians will be assembled by the ice, along with six nurses and nine physical therapists. They are also working with 13 athletic-trainer students from Whitworth, three chiropractors and three massage therapists.
Group Health is stocking some 2,000 supplies, including braces, wraps, bandages, creams and more.
Volunteer hair stylists, cosmetologists and seamstresses will tackle emergencies of a different kind, taming frizz, covering up blemishes and repairing costume tears, said Linda Graff, owner of A Sewing Shoppe and the event’s skater services chairman.
Graff said there was an outpouring of volunteers.
“That’s the community spirit,” she said.
Others in Spokane will offer spiritual help.
For many evangelical Christians who gather regularly to pray, the skating event will be high on their list of intercessions.
One group representing several area churches plans to gather almost daily in the Arena parking lot to ask God to bless Spokane.
“We are praying for the championship and for the safety of our city,” said Tatyana Bistrevsky, one of the organizers. “We’re praying that everything will be fine.”