Restaurants, businesses wait for U.S. Open boon

For downtown Huntington Beach, the U.S. Open of Surfing means a week of excitement on the water. For Brett Barnes, it means a wash of a different kind.

The managing partner of Duke's by the Huntington Beach Pier often deals with irked customers in the weeks before the annual competition. That's not because of food or drink quality, but rather because the beach fills up with one installation after another — a makeshift souvenir store, tents, bleachers — that obscures diners' view of the ocean.

In the weeks before and after the Open, Barnes sees his business drop. During the event itself, he gets more customers than at any other time of the year because the Open draws hundreds of thousands of spectators to town, and scenic view or not, they need places to eat.

"Our little decrease in sales during setup, it gets made up in those four or five days at the end of the contest," Barnes said.

The U.S. Open of Surfing, which brings together competitors from around the world, is set to take place Saturday to Aug. 7. Regardless of who takes home the surfing titles, the city's restaurants, hotels and retailers anticipate a few prizes of their own.

The Open represents the high point of visitor spending all year in Huntington Beach, according to Steve Bone, president and chief executive of the city's Marketing and Visitors Bureau.

Last year's event generated $21.5 million in consumer spending in and around Huntington, according to a study released Wednesday. Bone said he expects a similar result the next two weeks.

"It hits many levels," he said. "It's a great enforcer of the brand and validator of the Surf City USA brand that we carry with us all year. We have about 50 surf contests throughout the year, so it's not that we hang on this one. This one just gets the largest attention because of the quality and size of the surfing field."

Horizon Consumer Science and CIC Research Inc.'s study reported that attendees at the 2010 event spent an average of $43.45 per day, of which $33.72 was spent in Huntington and $9.73 in the rest of Orange County. The city and Marketing and Visitors Bureau commissioned the study.

The vast majority of funds generated, some $16.6 million, came from overnight lodging and retail items, the study said. The researchers also found that 185,035 people attended the U.S. Open. With the average visitor spending more than two days at the event, that amounted to a total attendance of 494,000.

The U.S. Open took place from July 31 to Aug. 8 last year. The researchers profiled 420 attendees to compile their data.

Officials at the three major downtown hotels — the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa, Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort and Shorebreak Hotel — said rooms were booked solid for the duration of the Open. Hyatt General Manager Cheryl Phelps likened the event to the Super Bowl in terms of public interest.

"It's really a five- to seven-day period when it's just great," she said.

Lt. Russell Reinhart said the Police Department would staff extra personnel during the Open, with as many as two sergeants and 20 officers assigned on the busiest days. Last year, he said, the event passed with no major incidents.

Pacifico beer, one of the event's sponsors, has announced that it will partner with California Yellow Cab to offer discounted rides Aug. 4 to 7. The company will distribute $5 cab vouchers and offer free rides on rickshaws, bicycle-powered carts that can transport up to three people, for spectators 21 and older.

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