The Kentucky Derby is to Louisville what the Mardi Gras is to New Orleans. The city is consumed with the May event for several months of the year; in the spring, even if you aren’t particularly interested in horse racing, many of the most exciting Louisville happenings from February on are related to the upcoming event. By April, Derby-doings rule for both ordinary citizens and businesses and then continue for a couple months. You might even call Louisville “Derby-centric” as “the most exciting two minutes in sports” benefits the Louisville economy in a big way.
To Louisville businesses, especially hotels, restaurants, and transportation companies, the two weeks surrounding Derby weekend itself is an “economic bonanza.” An extra 175,000 visitors translates to 70,000 premium-priced hotel rooms, 5 million extra meals, and 7 million dollars in Mint Juleps. In addition, since the Derby is a higher fashion event, retailers of hats, clothing, shoes, and accessories are winners too; ordinary people might spend hundreds on a laid-out hat for the day. The weeks of events prior to the race often have charges for admission or parking, plus offer plenty of pricey food and souvenirs. (About 2 million people attend the festivals, air shows, dances, dinners, and other events.) Private or group Derby parties benefit grocery stores, caterers, beer, wine, and liquor retailers, party supply shops, and more.
Thunder Over Louisville, the opening event of the Derby Day festival held in the two weeks prior to the race, features the largest fireworks show in North America and costs $1 million to put on. The return on that is $31 million for one day. About $400,000 of the overhead for Derby Festival sponsors goes to local vendors of portapotties, golf carts, fencing, security devices, portable generators, and tee shirts to identify workers. Food vendors on site buy $300,000 in supplies from local distributors in Louisville and Southern Indiana. About 100 temporary part timers are employed by the Derby Festival.
Other businesses – and the Louisville citizens who work there - benefit too. Bell captains at the Galt Hotel report that patrons tips more generously for porter services, which makes Thunder day one of the top days of the year. Papa John’s Witherspoon pizza store reports that Thunder Day sales are the best in the year, bringing in a week’s sales. The Belle of Louisville raises $35,000 of its operating budget, while many Louisville non-profits and attractions like the Kentucky Center for the Arts and Actors Theatre, The Louisville Ballet, The Louisville Science Center, the Louisville Slugger Museum, and Waterfront Development hold many successful Derby-themed fundraisers.
The entire Derby Festival has a $5 million dollar budget but generates nearly $100 million, so every dollar spent to put on the events puts over $18 into the local economy. This figure is over and above dollars spent at Churchill Downs, hotels , and restaurants.
During Derby season, the real winners are the city and the people who enjoy the events and profit from expenditures made at that time to enjoy it all. Whether you’re off to the races or not, Derby-centric Louisville is a wonderful place to visit and an even better place to live. My team and I at Younger Group Real Estate can show you affordable homes within your budget in Butchertown, St. Matthews, The Highlands, and other great Louisville neighborhoods. We know Louisville!