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‘The Lion King’ expected to provide region timely economic boost

Wed., Nov. 11, 2009

Show to run for four weeks

If you want to know how Spokane downtown retailers see the return of “The Lion King,” check with Jim Rhoades, owner of Rock City Grill.

“This show is a gift from the gods,” Rhoades proclaimed, in total seriousness. For most of this year, he said, the restaurant gods have not been kind. Consumers’ tight budgets have left his downtown eatery down 7 percent in sales compared with a year ago, he said.

Dining places are not the only expected beneficiaries of the four-week, 31-performance run of the award-winning musical which starts today at the INB Performing Arts Center.

Across the city’s downtown core, retailers, stagehands, parking lot managers, hotels and even bookstores can expect a hefty infusion of cash thanks to thousands of visitors traveling here to see the show.

The local stagehands union, which represents about 70 techies and stage workers, estimates the show will generate roughly $325,000 in paychecks for work done before and during the show.

“This show is an anomaly for us,” said Jacel Evans, business agent for Local 93 of the stagehands union.

Most touring Broadway shows come to town for a week, then move on. Another large show may not come to Spokane for several more months. “This show is like four big shows in a row,” Evans said.

Hotels in the downtown area are reporting spikes in out-of-town reservations. During the 2005, six-week run here of “The Lion King,” hotels reported booking 15,000 room-nights beyond what they normally get, said Jeanna Hofmeister, director of destination marketing for the Spokane Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The group uses a multiplier to estimate the impact of the show on Spokane’s economy. The number takes into account money spent on hotels, meals and shopping. It doesn’t include money spent on “Lion King” tickets.

“Assuming about 80,000 tickets are sold, we figure the net economic impact will be about $2.5 million,” said Hofmeister, noting the estimate doesn’t include every possible dollar spent during the four weeks of the show.

Since many show-goers come to Spokane from Montana, Idaho, Canada and small Eastern Washington towns, many will also go holiday shopping. The $2.5 million figure doesn’t factor in cash spent on holiday gifts, she said.

Mike McLeod, general manager of Spokane’s downtown DoubleTree Hotel, calls the arrival of the show an early Christmas present.

“It’s a slow period this time of year,” he said.

Because each night’s show will draw about 2,200 visitors to downtown, just about every restaurant in the downtown area can count on increased business, either before or after the performances, said Marla Nunberg, vice president for marketing and public relations for the Downtown Spokane Partnership.

At Clinkerdagger’s on the north side of the Spokane River, the show has enlivened the staff, said General Manager Lynette Baskins.

“After the summer our business dropped some. This comes along just at the right time to give the staff enough work for the rest of the month,” she said.

Retailers, both near and not near the INB Performing Arts Center, are trying to find ways to take advantage of the show’s appeal.

Deena Caruso, owner of Finders Keepers vintage clothes, collectibles and jewelry, enjoyed a spike in sales during the 2005 “Lion King” run. That happened after crew members visited her store at 112 S. Cedar St. on the west edge of downtown. They spread the word to other crew and cast members, and the result was steady flow of sales from the troupe, Caruso said.

This year she’s hoping to double that success, having since opened a second Finders Keepers shop at 18 W. Main Ave. That shop is within walking distance of the performance hall.

Even so, she’s not counting on huge increases in sales. She would just like to see more customers come through the store, enjoying Spokane’s downtown, she said.

“Anytime something like this brings tourists to our area, it helps all our businesses,” Caruso said.

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