Valley to see estimated $2.3 million from PIAA swimming competition

Mar. 12—An estimated $2.3 million in revenue is expected to be generated across the Lewisburg area over the four-day state swimming competition this week.

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Inc. kicks off its 2024 Swimming and Diving Championship on Wednesday in Lewisburg. The four-day event, held in Lewisburg since 2008, will be continued each day until Saturday at Bucknell University's Kinney Natatorium.

"The PIAA Swimming and Diving Championships, held every March in Lewisburg, provides a much-welcomed boost to the economy in regard to visitor spending at area businesses during a time of year which is usually very quiet," said Andrew Miller the executive director for the Susquehanna River Valley Visitors Bureau. "For the last 17 years, we have welcomed PIAA officials, teams and attendees to Lewisburg and the Susquehanna River Valley. We feel that the stellar venue at Bucknell University and the welcoming hospitality from our businesses and residents has created a model for success between Bucknell University, PIAA, and the visitors bureau. With success as our shared goal, and with us working together so successfully for over a decade, we look forward to hosting this event for years to come."

Between transient guests normal to this time of year, plus the 6,000 PIAA attendees over the four nights of the event, hotels are full at the majority of lodging properties from Shamokin Dam to Williamsport and Lewisburg to Danville. They are expected to spend an estimated $2.3 million, said Miller.

"This time of year is very slow in terms of overnight guests and tourism," said Miller. "We're not a winter destination. The PIAA Swimming & Diving Championships bring a much-welcomed bump in visitor-spending that has economic benefits to the hotels and businesses in Lewisburg plus the hotels and businesses where event attendees stay.

For PIAA guests, the bureau does the following to welcome all who attend: PIAA colored ribbons tied to downtown parking meters on Market Street in Lewisburg; a "Welcome PIAA Swimming & Diving Championship" banner hung across Market Street in downtown Lewisburg; "Welcome PIAA Swimming & Diving Championship" signs distributed by bureau staff to downtown businesses and hotels to display on their storefront windows and front desks; PIAA event schedule and map provided to area hotels; and the visitors bureau creates a PIAA landing page on for both local businesses and visitors to have easy access to PIAA event information.

"Because of a longstanding relationship with Bucknell University, Lewisburg welcomes the PIAA state swimming championship each year during spring break," said Lewisburg Mayor Kendy Alvarez. "It's a time that would normally be slow for our downtown businesses and restaurants with the influx of parents and families from Pennsylvaniacontributes so much to our local economy."

The bureau also staffs a booth at the PIAA event to distribute area information to event attendees during the busiest breaks of the event where attendees move about the venue. One of the most popular items is a flier the bureau creates for local eateries and those with takeout or delivery as many teams order food for their rooms, said Mller.

The bureau provides 65 "PIAA VIP Bags" filled with giveaways and coupons from bureau members and local businesses.

Partnership 'loves hosting'

Lynne Sobel Ragusea, the executive assistant of the Lewisburg Downtown Partnership, said the area is ready for the influx of people.

"The Lewisburg Downtown Partnership is really pleased that this tournament continues to return to Bucknell University," said Ragusea. "The tournament brings a lot of people in from out-of-town, during a time when students are away. We create a shopping pass for tournament participants and their parents that can be used in over 40 participating downtown businesses. We love the energy that the participants and spectators of this tournament bring downtown. We hope they enjoy visiting as much as we love hosting."

Mary Jones, manager of D&J Sports, a swim shop, at 234 Market St., has been serving swimmers for 14 years from all over Pennsylvania from the local area, Scranton, State College, Bloomsburg, Williamsport and toward the New York border.

"It's a revisit for a lot of these kids that I've suited over the years," said Jones. "I see a lot of them from year to year. Their families, their parents come, and I get to know them until they graduate."

Jones said she will be running specials.

"They know I'm here," she said. "They call ahead. Some will pick up their stuff when they come to town."

Chamber welcomes visitors

The leaders of the Greater Susquehanna Valley and Central PA chambers of commerce both expressed their excitement about the event.

"Events like these are excellent to showcase the businesses in downtown Lewisburg and the surrounding areas," said Tea Jay Aikey, the president/CEO of the Central PA Chamber. "Restaurants, retail, and lodging can surely expect to see an increase of foot traffic and revenue. It is wonderful to see how the businesses showcase their locations by offering a welcoming feel to those coming to Lewisburg for such occurrences. Note there are many great resources too for the out-of-town visitors such as the Lewisburg Downtown Partnership, Susquehanna River Valley Visitors Bureau and of course the Central PA Chamber of Commerce."

Bob Garrett, the president/CEO of the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber, agreed, welcoming back the swimmers and divers of the PIAA.

"The impressive multiplier effect of these types of events are multifold," he said. "First, is the infusion of dollars into our local economy. This economic boost goes well beyond the hospitality industry and touches agriculture thanks to the meals that visitors eat while they're here. Local craftspeople and merchants report an uptick in sales from visitor purchases, as well."

Second, Garrett added, it gives the area a "fantastic opportunity" to showcase local gems and unique offerings.

"Hopefully, this might entice the athletes to return to continue their educations and their families to visit the Susquehanna River Valley over and over again," he said. "Timing is the third positive effect. Frankly, this is the time of the year when our hotels tend to have lots of vacancies and reservations at our busiest restaurants are easy to score. Number of heads in beds and butts in seats is the unofficial measure of success that we like to use. The late-winter timing of the PIAA event could not be better for all these reasons."