Country Thunder brings little money to area - East Valley Tribune: News

Country Thunder brings little money to area

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Posted: Monday, April 14, 2008 8:25 pm | Updated: 8:45 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Country Thunder USA will rumble into Canyon Moon Ranch near Florence Thursday with a highly advertised four-day lineup that includes such country stars as Phil Vassar and folk stalwart John Fogerty.

SLIDESHOW: See wokers prepare for the crowds at Country Thunder

Country Thunder USA will rumble into Canyon Moon Ranch near Florence Thursday with a highly advertised four-day lineup that includes such country stars as Phil Vassar and folk stalwart John Fogerty.

SLIDESHOW: See wokers prepare for the crowds at Country Thunder

But does the event - with the tens of thousands of people it draws each day - inject significant amounts of money into the local economy?

Regional economic experts say no.

While the numbers for Country Thunder just don't add up to much, it does gives the area valuable exposure, said Rayna Palmer, with the Northeastern Pinal Economic Partnership.

Country Thunder attracts people across the nation who camp and travel for the event. Many others travel from Mesa, Tempe and Chandler to enjoy a day of headline shows.

The concert is one of a menu of offerings for Arizona's spring visitors, Palmer said. The LPGA event in Gold Canyon, the Renaissance Faire and Cactus League spring training are vital to attracting families for spring vacations to the East Valley and providing winter visitors with entertainment, she said.

But money from all of the events leaks out of Pinal County because many of the Valley's best restaurants, bars and nightclubs are in the Phoenix metropolitan area, Palmer said.

NO ECONOMIC POWERHOUSE

Statistics from the Arizona Department of Revenue reveal that last year's Country Thunder event, which ran April 12-15, created no significant spike in hospitality and tourist tax dollars for Pinal County, where the event is located.

For that month, the state reported that the county reaped $88,003 in excise taxes from restaurants and bars, $463,346 from retail sales, and $12,591 from hotel and motels in the county.

The monthly average for all three categories were slightly lower, but not by much. The state reported a monthly average of $82,805 in taxes from Pinal County's restaurants and bars, $455,460 from retail sales and $10,010 in hotel and motel taxes.

Florence officials, who did not produce the town's sales tax figures, said the town does not experience any significant spike in business either, but appreciates the exposure Country Thunder brings.

"The publicity for the event is a large benefit for Florence; it puts Florence on the map," town spokesman Jess Knudson said. "People come from all over the country, but they tend to stay out there."

Glenn Starnes, general manager for Country Thunder, said the festival attracts a mix of people. Some 4,000 people will probably camp and stay the entire four days at Canyon Moon Ranch. Others come from other states and stay in hotels and motels in the area. A core group comes from Maricopa County to get away from it all, he said.

"It's difficult to say what brings people," he said. "You go camping, you bring everything you need, you get to where you're going, and you leave something behind."

NEVERTHELESS ...

Some of the bars and hotels in the heart of Pinal County look forward to Country Thunder every year, despite what the economic figures indicate.

The River Bottom Saloon, 2501 N. Highway 79, embraces the concert like no other business in the county, said Kip Goin, the bar's owner.

The saloon has the good fortune of being near the turn off to Price Road from Highway 79 which leads to Canyon Moon Ranch. Before the event starts, the bar is planning a kick-off party Wednesday that is expected to pack in 600 people.

Goin said he's purchased 400 hundred cases of beer and hired 25 extra staff for the party, which is like Christmas for the establishment.

"We'll definitely see an increase in business. We don't have all this beer and soda and ice in here for nothing," he said. "We're a little hole-in-the-wall bar, but we have one of the nicest enclosed patios in Pinal County."

The bar sits on an acre lot, and employees fence off about half of that for the party, Goin said. The business is setting up a 50-foot tent and a stage, and provides a patio and a main bar.

River Bottom also serves as an unofficial place during Country Thunder's four-day run to chill out and offers information for campers that stay at the event, Goin said.

"There's a few people that want to get away from the masses and sit in the shade for awhile," he said. "We love doing it for them."

Although central Pinal County doesn't offer many hotels and motels, the ones that are there are seeing a spike in business for the upcoming weekend.

Catherine West, front office manager for the Holiday Inn in Casa Grande, said the 176-bed hotel is nearly booked for the four days of Country Thunder.

John Hanaway, regional director of sales for American Hospitality, is completing an 88-room Holiday Inn Express in Florence. There's going to be no business this year because the hotel is expected to open in late May, but he's heard a lot of interest from Country Thunder festivalgoers.

"We have had a lot of calls from people who have wanted to make reservations, but we're not open yet" he said. "We're looking forward to next year, though."

POLICING THE THUNDER

The Pinal County Sheriff's Office, the Department of Public Safety, and Florence Police all plan to direct traffic and patrol the event for drunken driving, Lt. Scott Elliott of the sheriff's office said.

He said Wednesday's campground opening can create a plug of people coming to the event, with traffic backing up on Price Road as far back as Highway 79.

Friday and Saturday nights are the heart of the event and draw the most patrons, many from Maricopa County. Last year 21,000 to 25,000 people helped create a bottleneck going in and out of the site.

"In years past, the big acts - those are the big number days, we have had nightmares with people coming in and people coming out," Elliott said.

The focus of the DUI patrols is obviously the highways, he said. Several years ago, a major accident involved an impaired driver near Florence Junction, where Highway 79 and the U.S. 60 intersect, he said.

This year with the help of three law enforcement agencies, people who drive out of the event impaired are looking for trouble, Elliott said. However, overall the sheriff's office sees the value of events like these.

"It's not a headache to me. It's another event. Due to the growth of the county we're having more attractions," Elliott said. "It's one of those things. Pinal County is growing up. We roll with the punches."

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