World Equestrian Games had $201.5 million impact in state, report says

The 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games had an economic impact of $201.5 million, according to a financial study commissioned by the state.

"When Kentucky hosted the 2010 Games, the benefits were enormous," Gov. Steve Beshear said Monday at a news conference announcing the results. "WEG brought a significant financial return to the commonwealth."

Beshear singled out his predecessor, former Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher, for his efforts in initiating the process of bringing the World Equestrian Games to Kentucky at a time when they had never been contemplated outside of Europe.

"He and his team took a leap of faith, and he has got to be recognized for his early efforts," Beshear said.

Beshear said the immediate benefits of the Games, as well as the long-term gains, justify the approximately $107 million in state, local and federal money spent on improvements to the infrastructure of the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, which hosted the 16 days of international equestrian competitions in September and October.

An additional $151 million in building projects, some planned for decades, were expedited to be ready in time for the Games.

"Kentucky pulled off a big success, and we did it because of the hard work of 6,000 volunteers," Beshear said.

First lady Jane Beshear, who spearheaded efforts to bring the Games to fruition, was jubilant Monday.

"I don't think any of us had any doubt it would be successful, but hearing those numbers. .... We did it. We really did it."

Jane Beshear said the numbers "prove that people around the globe will come here, spend their money here; they will want to invest here, and they will plan to return."

Gov. Beshear, Horse Park Director John Nicholson and others said the payoffs continue.

"The second big benefit from the Games concerned marketing," Beshear said. More than 419,000 visitors came to the park, and millions more people around the world watched some portion of the competition on television.

That has brought more new events to Kentucky, including the upcoming Alltech National Horse Show in early November, Nicholson said.

Alltech founder Pearse Lyons, whose company invested more than $30 million directly and indirectly into the Games, said he will be announcing the title-sponsorship deal next week for the 2012 Games in Normandy, France.

Lyons said Monday that he considers being associated with the World Equestrian Games "the smartest decision we ever made."

The study released Monday showed "direct" spending of $128.2 million, which is well above the $97 million in direct spending predicted in a study done in March 2010.

Direct spending accounted for:

■ $55.4 million at the Kentucky Horse Park, including ticket sales, food and beverage, souvenirs and other spending

■ $39.6 million on lodging

■ $15.9 million in off-site food and beverage

■ $7.2 million in off-site shopping

■ $3.8 million on off-site attractions

■ $3.7 million in off-site souvenirs

■ $2.7 million in transportation

The study also found $73.3 million in "indirect" spending, such as money spent for food and lodging suppliers, construction and other services.

According to Beshear, the number of passengers at Blue Grass Airport in Lexington in October was 39 percent higher than the same month the previous year. And there were more than 700 private and company planes landing during the period.

The influx of people created 3,101 jobs and generated almost $23 million in state and local taxes, according to the report.

"Obviously, some of that can be seen as a one-time infusion," Beshear said. But he predicted that with the Horse Park arena that was built for the Games and other improvements, "taxpayers will see significant returns on our investment well into the future."

Pointing to new and expanded events crowding the Horse Park's calendar, park director Nicholson said, "Not one penny of the state's investments were for the Games alone. We're already aggressively utilizing this facility, and this will assure we will remain the best in the world for generations to come. This is truly a story of promises kept."

According to the report commissioned by the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, the Alltech World Equestrian Games Foundation reported that it sold or provided complimentary tickets to 419,853 visitors. They came from 63 countries and all 50 states.

The study, which cost the state $7,800, was conducted for the cabinet by Certec Inc. of Versailles. Information for the study was supplied by the World Games 2010 Foundation Inc.; Kentucky Horse Park; and Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet.

Detailed financial reports on the Games kept by the World Games 2010 Foundation have not been made public.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader