Gains in the game

Fans of city's high-profile sports deliver economic punch

Boston hotels, such as the Taj, near the Marathon route, are benefiting from the influx of sports fans. Boston hotels, such as the Taj, near the Marathon route, are benefiting from the influx of sports fans. (Globe Staff Photo / Pat Greenhouse)
By James Vaznis
Globe Staff / April 20, 2009
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They've dined on lobster in the Back Bay. They've downed $100 bottles of wine in the North End. And they've consumed plenty of pasta.

Tens of thousands of sports enthusiasts from across the country and the world descended on Boston this weekend for the Boston Marathon as well as for the Red Sox, the Bruins, and the Celtics. With runners interested in carbo loading before the big race, restaurants have been serving plenty of pasta, but the addition of Bruins and Celtics fans has created demand for more slabs of meat.

"The grill guy has been very busy," said Steve DiFillippo, owner of Davio's Northern Italian Steakhouse on Arlington Street. "I think it has a lot to do with the Bruins and Celtics fans being in town."

Nebo Restaurant & Bar, across from TD Banknorth Garden, has been feeding hungry sports fans well after midnight.

"We've had a full house until 2 a.m.," said Carla Pallotta, who owns the restaurant with her sister Christine. "Everyone is loading up on carbs. It's perfect for us. We do a lot of pizza and handcut pasta."

The unusual confluence of sporting events prompted establishments to offer special deals for visiting fans.

To entice more diners, Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar on Stuart Street is offering to drop patrons off at sporting evens in a seven-passenger Mercedes.

"The car has been in overdrive," said owner Michael Dearing. "We've been chauffeuring people to the Garden and Fenway Park. It's been nice to have the car fulfill its purpose."

And the Howard Johnson Inn in the Fenway boosted occupancy this weekend with a special package that included round-trip travel to outlet stores in Wrentham. The deal secured 22 reservations for the hotel and a no-vacancy sign.

"I wish I had more rooms," said Bill Sage, vice president of Sage Hotel Corp., which owns the hotel.

Boston tourism officials predict the weekend of events will deliver an economic punch of approximately $108 million to area businesses. The upsurge, they said, is the first positive sign since last fall, when the declining economy cut into the hospitality sector.

"We are hoping this is not a blip of positive news and then we go back to what has been a difficult six or seven months for the visitors industry, " said Patrick Moscaritolo, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitor Bureau.

With sidewalks teeming with folks clad in royal blue-and-yellow running jackets, Red Sox caps, Celtics tank tops, or Bruins sweatshirts, some business owners said the turnout was greater than they anticipated.

At the Hotel Commonwealth, located near the Marathon's 25-mile mark in Kenmore Square and a block from Fenway Park, rooms for Patriots Day weekend generally are booked a month or so in advance. But this year they didn't get snatched up until last week.

"There was definitely a last-minute element to it," said Adam Sperling, general manager. "It's the way of the world now. People are deciding late in the process whether to do something or not."

While the outlook for New England's tourism industry is gloomy, the region is expected to fare better than other parts of the country, economists and researchers said last month at the state's annual Governor's Conference on Travel & Tourism. Hotel occupancy rates are predicted to be down slightly from 61.6 percent last year to 57 percent this year. Nationally, the rate could be as low as 52 percent, about 8 percentage points lower than last year.

The drop, however, comes on top of a slowdown in the industry that already caused it to shed about 1.8 percent of jobs in Massachusetts last year.

The hectic weekend has been in sharp contrast to the past winter, when chilling temperatures and snow kept people at home, and many in the hospitality industry hope that sunny skies will continue to draw people out for a day on the town in the months to come.

"Between the snow and the negativity of the recession, it was a tough winter and there's a lot to make up," said Anthony Caturano, chef and owner of Prezza in the North End, who said patrons have been spending more on food and drink in recent weeks. "You wouldn't think, with everything going on, you would be selling a $100 bottle of wine, but we are."

James Vaznis can be reached at