The decision to expand Michigan City’s 2019 Great Lakes Grand Prix with both new and additional races paid off in a big way for the community, with this year’s event setting all-time records for both attendance and earnings, according to a report released by Visit Michigan City LaPorte Convention & Visitors Bureau. A total of 212,600 people visited the 11th annual event held Aug. 2-4, generating $13.6 million for LaPorte County’s economy.

“Attendance was over the top, and we couldn’t be happier,” said Jack Arnett, Executive Director of Visit Michigan City LaPorte. “We had visitors from around the world, representing five continents. The combined attendance for the three days makes this one of the largest events in the region.”

The Great Lakes Grand Prix, held on Lake Michigan just off the shore of Michigan City’s Washington Park, features some of the world’s fastest powerboats racing at speeds nearing 175 miles per hour. Originally staged to showcase Michigan City and its lakefront, the race has become a top draw for visitors. This year, high-endurance jet ski racing was added.

“The Great Lakes Grand Prix is without a doubt our marquee event,” said Michigan City Mayor Ron Meer. “As the Mayor of Michigan City, I am proud of all of my departments and especially the LaPorte County Convention & Visitors Bureau for all of their hard work. It is because of all of them that Michigan City once again shined in such a positive light.” 

This year’s figures easily topped last year’s attendance of 190,000 and earnings of $12.4 million, according to findings in a report prepared for the Convention & Visitors Bureau by Certec Inc., a marketing analysis group based in Lexington, Kentucky. The report shows that visitors from out of town spent $9.1 million this year on direct expenditures such as food, beverages, shopping, and transportation, accounting for a large portion of this year’s $13.6 million in earnings. In addition, local residents attending the event contributed an additional $518,100 in direct spending.

Jobs directly related to the Grand Prix provided more than $3 million in wages to LaPorte County workers, the report showed, and non-local visitor spending alone generated $3.6 million in tax revenues, with $705,800 going to local government. 

Arnett attributed some of the uptick in earnings and attendance to changes in this year’s race, including staging races for two days instead of one. Also, for the first time the Grand Prix partnered with the American Powerboat Association, putting the Michigan City races into a six-venue racing series staged by the group. The association was formed when the world’s leading marine motorsport brand, Powerboat P1, and the Offshore Powerboat Association (OPA) joined forces. In addition, Grand Prix organizers brought in AquaX, a group that promotes high-endurance jet ski racing around the world.

“The decision to go with OPA and bring in the extra day of racing along with the AquaX (jet skis) helped to push this to a new level,” Arnett said.

Other events occurring during race weekend contributed greatly to the Grand Prix’s overall success, the report showed. The annual Taste of Michigan City, sponsored by the Michigan City Mainstreet Association, drew 15,000 visitors on Friday, while 7,000 visited Washington Park that day, taking advantage of vendors and musical entertainment. On Saturday 50,000 visitors headed for the Taste of Michigan City, Boat Parade and Party, and another 50,000 to the park for the races and other activities. On Sunday, park attendance grew to 90,000 for the races.

Nearly one-third of visitors were attending the Grand Prix weekend for the first time, the report said, and many visitors took advantage of at least two other activities while in the area, including the beach, Blue Chip Casino, the Washington Park Zoo and the Hesston Steam Museum. The report noted that “tourism is a key component of the LaPorte County economy….generating nearly $713 million in economic impact last year.”

Mayor Meer concurred, adding that the Grand Prix helps showcase the community. “Welcoming the number of people into our community that were here over the course of this year’s races, is a huge opportunity for us to highlight everything Michigan City has to offer,” he said.