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Basketball, art, and technical support bring economic boost to Great Falls

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Posted at 6:17 PM, Feb 21, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-22 14:33:40-05

GREAT FALLS — Between basketball tournaments, a Western Art Week that returns to its roots, and a hospital undergoing a major medical records transformation, Great Falls will see many more visitors over the next few weeks. And while restaurant tables and hotel rooms may be harder to come by, it is a dilemma business people do not mind dealing with.

With the Northern C Divisional High School Basketball tournament kicking off Wednesday, Great Falls businesses could be poised for a slam dunk when it comes to an economic impact.

“This week, we're going to see about a 15 to 20% increase in foot traffic,” said Joey Himmelberg, owner and operator of the three McDonald’s restaurants in Great Falls and one in Havre. “It's great with the tournaments. It's not just the teams, but the fans and the whole town of these small communities definitely comes out.”

“We love that all the teams come through, teams go to the hotels, they go to restaurants nearby, go to restaurants here,” said Great Falls Holiday Inn Accountant Nathan Sylvia. “It's just a good place all across the board for economics.”

Next week, the city will welcome the Frontier Conference basketball tournament, followed by the State Class C Basketball tourney. In mid-March, Western Art Week will rebound to its pre-Covid form, with the popular Russell Auction returning to March.

Adding to the economic scorecard is an influx of employees helping Benefis Health System launch a new medical record system.

“During the weeks of go live, the surrounding few weeks, we'll have 642 Epic employees coming to a grace us with their presence to support the system’s launch,” said Vickie Nelson, Benefis Health System Vice President and System Chief Information Officer during the Great Falls Development Alliance’s Ignite 24 event in January.

Great Falls Montana Tourism director Rebecca Engum told MTN the economic boost provides a significant impact for the area.

During any given week, the city has about 16,100 available hotel rooms or about 2,300 a night. Last year, during Western Art Week, 2,394 more hotel rooms were used than in 2020. Engum says that equates to 4,788 people. She adds on average, each person is spending about $200 per day.

Great Falls may not be home to a Red Lobster, Olive Garden, or Panera Bread, but when it comes to Montana events, the Electric City offers accommodations other towns have a hard time matching up against.

“Prices have gone up, but they haven’t hit the astronomic levels here,” said Sylvia. “When big events are going on in places like Missoula, you're looking at $400 for a night.”

Himmelberg knows the lines may be a little longer and encourages people to use the restaurant’s app for convenience.

He also knows this time of year could mean a basketful of bucks for area businesses.

“It's great for us. It's great for Great Falls,” said Himmelberg. “I know that the hotels do really well with it. The shopping downtown really benefits and we benefit as well.”