The white tents plastered in Guinness, Coors Light and WBRU posters and droves of out-of-town buses at the Dunkin' Donuts Center last week did not only indicate the kickoff of basketball's best month of the year, it also meant big bucks for the state's struggling economy. Providence College's basketball arena was rocking for three days while local businesses were raking in tourists' dollars.
College basketball fans from New England swarmed to Providence for the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament. The Dunk was sold out for all six games, and the sports bars in the surrounding area packed their tables, according to Fred Goodwin, the owner of Bravo Brasserie on Empire Street.
Fans pouring in from the rest of the country — including San Diego, Tennessee and Ohio — were expected to bring the real boost, however.
According to Martha Sheridan, president of the Providence/Warwick Convention and Visitors Bureau, conservative estimates predict about $3 million in direct spending. This figure is based on hotel reservations and restaurant patterns, but she said this number is modest in comparison to estimated figures from other host cities. The city of Providence secured this year's event in 2006 and Sheridan began planning for it in September.
There were 10 official hotels in the downtown area sponsoring the event, eight of which hosted individual teams and their traveling fans, she said.
"When they arrived Tuesday night, each team was greeted with a chocolate cake and Autocrat coffee syrup," Sheridan said, providing a little taste of Lil' Rhody's finest. Visitors' tables and information centers also gave fans recommendations for sites to visit and explore around Providence.
Reservations at the local hotels began to pick up after the tournament teams were announced the Sunday prior, said Patrick Jordan, general manager of Hotel Providence. "The city looks like a well-oiled machine," he said.
He expects that the tournament will provide immediate profit for Providence, as well as paying dividends through the spring and summer tourist seasons. "The amount of exposure we get — not only from the universities coming here, but also when the national television audience sees cuts of Providence — it's a great vehicle for people to know that we're a regional destination as well," he said.
The Convention and Visitors Bureau worked closely with the office of Mayor David Cicilline '83 to ensure that things ran smoothly and to plan for a special Slam Dunk WaterFire, held Friday night.
The WaterFire event was especially important to Cicilline, according to his press secretary, Karen Southern. He spent most of the night walking around, introducing himself to visitors and talking about their stay in his city, she said.
The event came "during a time that's typically slow economically," Southern said, "right before tourist season."
Cicilline also recently secured a 10-year contract with the Big East, a collegiate athletic conference that includes Providence College. The conference was headquartered in Providence's Jewelry District until Brown's planned expansion forced it out of the neighborhood. Cicilline intervened to secure new office space for the Big East elsewhere in the city, Southern said.
One avid University of Tennessee fan, Trey White, wearing orange-and-white checkered golf pants, displayed enthusiasm for his team in the Dunk on Thursday night. He checked into the Providence Crowne Plaza Hotel on the previous Tuesday, dined out around the city and was planning to visit Newport the next day.
Since his Vols won, White planned to stay through their second game on Saturday before returning home or moving on to root for his team in the next city.
White was not the only fan planning to enjoy the rest of the state during his visit. One large contingent of Tennessee fans planned an excursion to Narragansett, and a group from Villanova University was planning a trip to Newport, Sheridan said.
Inside the arena, one local said, "This is way more packed than a PC game. PC security is a joke compared to this."
An attendant at a fried dough stand inside said, "This is probably the most crowded event we've ever had."