published Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Civil War events to be economic boon to Chattanooga area

Jay Lindsey, of Denver, purchases memorabilia from Janet Dinsmoor while in the bookstore at the Chickamauga Battlefield visitors center early Tuesday morning.
Jay Lindsey, of Denver, purchases memorabilia from Janet Dinsmoor while in the bookstore at the Chickamauga Battlefield visitors center early Tuesday morning.
Photo by Dan Henry.
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COMING SATURDAY

See our special section on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, a 56-page guide to the history and drama surrounding key battles and figures, and a list of re-enactments and other activities scheduled in the Chattanooga area. In Saturday's Times Free Press.

  • photo
    The Chattanooga Times Free Press special section on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.
    Photo by Staff File Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The economic impact of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga is a tough thing to nail down, but organizers agree on one thing -- the event will be a boon for Chattanooga and North Georgia.

Organizers have much to prepare before Saturday, which kicks off 10 days of events in Walker County, Ga. Vendors must be organized, traffic plans made and the site of the battle re-enactment at Mountain Cove Farms prepared to become Walker's most populous unofficial city.

But Larry Brooks, director of economic development for Walker County, says all the work will be well worth it. In fact, money is already coming to the area.

"From what we can tell right now, it already seems to be having a big impact. We've been told through different sources that many of the hotel accommodations from Chattanooga down into Ringgold have already been booked," Brooks said.

Tabitha Caheely, a clerk at Key West Inn on Highway U.S. 27 in LaFayette, Ga., said last week that 22 of its 36 rooms have already been booked for the Battle of Chickamauga re-enactment weekend.

"We're expecting a big crowd," Caheely said. "Normally, we do not have this many people booked up for a weekend. It's really rare."

The Basket Case, a gourmet food, cake and coffee shop in downtown Chickamauga, is usually closed on Sundays.

But owner Linda Palmer plans to stay open on the Sunday of the Chickamauga re-enactment to sell goodies such as old-fashioned, deep-fried apple pie.

"We're looking for a big day," Palmer said. "The merchants kind of depend on these special events to get us through the slow times."

John Culpepper, event coordinator for the Chickamauga re-enactment, thinks participation will be similar to April 2012 events for the battle of Shiloh in Southwest Tennessee.

For that 10-day commemoration, Shiloh saw about 100,000 visitors -- and 23,000 of those came to the battle re-enactment, he said.

But Shiloh is a little far-flung. Given Chickamauga's proximity to Nashville, Knoxville, Atlanta and Birmingham, Culpepper expects local events to be better attended.

"It's going to be a pretty good economic impact no matter what," he said. "If 100,000 people come and they each spend $50, that's $5 million. And people are going to be spending more than $50 apiece."

He has received calls from people in Minnesota, Texas, California and other states who are interested in attending or participating in the events.

"A lot of folks are coming because their ancestors fell at Chickamauga," Culpepper said.

In the coming days, he said, organizers will be working hard to finish preparations on the property to accommodate crowds. The to-do list includes making a few temporary roads at Mountain Cove Farms, building three bridges and getting water and restrooms in place.

The most recent major 150th anniversary battle was re-enacted in Gettysburg, Pa.

Carl Whitehill, spokesman for the Gettysburg Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the anniversary took years of planning.

"For the July 2013 anniversary, we started planning for it in late 2010. When we first sat down at the table, we thought we were a little behind schedule, believe it or not," Whitehill said. "We're a town of 8,000 and we knew we were going to see tens of thousands of people per day, and that's a lot for the infrastructure."

Whitehill said organizers in Gettysburg worked to make the anniversary a year-long event, which generated an estimated $750 million. But the 10-day commemoration event immediately around the battle anniversary brought an estimated 235,000 people and about $100 million to the Pennsylvania town, he said.

Whitehill said Gettysburg organizers learned lessons from watching the 2011 anniversary of the battle of Manassas in Virginia.

"They had 101-degree temperatures there. So we had to be prepared to deal with extreme heat and be prepared for medical issues that could arise," Whitehill said. "Our advice going your way is there's no such thing as too much preparation for an event like this."

Brooks said he doesn't anticipate Gettysburg numbers for Chickamauga events, but more visitors mean more revenue for the community.

"I don't know if we can expect [Gettysburg anniversary attendance] because this is something that is relatively new. But if we can see another 20,000 folks ... we think it will be a big shot in the arm for our local economy," Brooks said.

Revenue could be a big help for the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, according to Patrice Glass, executive director for Friends of the Park.

"We think the economic impact is going to be great. The last economic impact study done showed visitation at the park is 1 million people. The expected visitation this year is expected to be much higher," Glass said.

The park is putting on events through late November. But it is also holding a four-day symposium starting Oct. 9.

"We have two four-day events, so we are hoping the economic impact [will] be spread out over a longer period of time," Glass said.

Staff writer Tim Omarzu contributed to this story.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at brogdon@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6481.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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