With 99 days to go until the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, organizers said ticket sales are not as robust as they had once hoped they would be.
"Ticket sales are OK," Jamie Link, CEO of the World Games Foundation said at a media briefing Thursday. "We're seeing the effects of the economy. People are waiting later to make buying decisions. ... Once the World Cup is over, Europeans will turn their attention to the World Games."
Organizers originally said they expected 600,000 tickets to be sold. A little over 260,000 have been sold, Link said.
New ticket packages will be offered in the next few weeks.
"We know that the final rounds of events are selling well and will sell out," he said.
Lower-than-expected ticket sales means hotel rooms are not sold out either. John Long, chairman of the World Games Foundation board and CEO of the U.S. Equestrian Federation, said the housing bureau now reports that hotels in and around Lexington are at 65 percent of capacity during the Games. Most people are booking for a five-day stay.
Because so much of the organizing depends on ticket sales, Long said the key word now is flexibility.
For example, it's not clear how many temporary seats will be needed around the park. The outdoor stadium, with 7,289 permanent seats, could fit a total of 30,000 people, Long said, but they will build only as many temporary seats as needed for people who buy tickets.
"Every seat has to be taken," he said.
The building of seats and the 300 temporary structures around the Horse Park — everything from the media structure to hospitality chalets — will begin next month.
Parking and penguins
Overall planning is "going well," Long said during the 100 Days to Go celebration at Cheapside Park on Thursday. "We know a lot more today than we did one year ago," he said. "Some changes are things we didn't expect."
For example, the transportation plan had been centered around parking at Coldstream Research Park on Newtown Pike, with shuttles to the Horse Park. Then a landowner on Iron Works Pike offered a 65-acre lot for parking. It's now possible that all the visitors' cars could fit onto that lot, and Coldstream would be used only for spillover.
Ticket sales are now aimed not just at equine aficionados but at people who want to see a big event up close. The festival atmosphere was on display at Cheapside Park on Thursday. People who stopped by during their lunch breaks heard live music, sampled beer, ice cream or Camembert flown in from Normandy, France, where the Games will be held in 2014.
The longest lines, however, formed for Paula, a small and patient African penguin, who came from the Newport Aquarium.
"I am so excited about our downtown," Long said. "It will be absolutely lit up for 16 days."
Sharon Locker came by during her lunch break. She's a little worried that all the street construction won't be finished in time for the Games, but "I think it will be fun, and there will be good turnout."
Dudamel and Elvis
Cheapside Park, Triangle Park and the Courthouse Plaza will be filled with Spotlight Lexington entertainment from Sept. 25 through Oct. 16, including actress and singer Laura Bell Bundy and bluegrass musician J.D. Crowe.
In addition, the Alltech Fortnight Festival will blanket the state with entertainers, including Little Feat, a band that has mixed blues, rhythm and blues, country, and rock and roll styles since 1969, plus the Beach Boys, singer Tony Bennett and actor John Lithgow's one-man show.
The festival already has announced its marquee performer: hotshot conductor Gustavo Dudamel, who will conduct the Vienna Philharmonic at the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville on Sept. 27.
The performers, who cover a wide range of genres and styles, will celebrate "Kentucky's defining moment," as described by Pearse Lyons, founder and president of Alltech, the title sponsor of the Games. Lyons originally said he had hoped to bring groups such as U2 or the Rolling Stones to the Fortnight Festival.
Paula the penguin or other denizens of Newport Aquarium will be at the Kentucky Horse Park in one of the pavilions that highlight the many tourist destinations around the state. In other words, even if you're not horsey, the World Games will have plenty for everyone.
Even Elvis fans. At a legislative committee meeting Thursday, John Nicholson, executive director of the Kentucky Horse Park, told a legislative panel that Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley, has agreed to loan the park Elvis' saddles, boots and stirrups. They will be on display during the Games.
Nicholson said that he was not aware until recently that Elvis and his former wife Priscilla used to ride horses.