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Downtown Columbia businesses playing waiting game

Hospitality and Tourism
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With the University of South Carolina’s football faceoff against Georgia in limbo, downtown Columbia businesses played the waiting game today.

Luke Fusetti, assistant general manager at Hyatt Place in the Vista, said the hotel has fielded a steady stream of calls since Wednesday from guests inquiring about the status of the game, originally scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Saturday but threatened by the approach of Hurricane Matthew.

“Our phone is a hot line,” said Fusetti, who said no guests had canceled a reservation – which they can do until 4 p.m. the day of arrival – as of this afternoon.

With those rooms still booked, Fusetti has had to tell evacuees leaving S.C. coastal areas that there’s no room at the inn.

“We want to help all the evacuees, (but) I really don’t have any room,” he said. “Some of the guests for the game, they also have kids that go (to) USC. They booked the room so far ahead in advance. I can’t turn around and cancel their reservation.”

The Midlands has about 120 hotels and 11,000 rooms, said Bill Ellen, president and CEO of the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports & Tourism. He estimated that about 7,000 rooms usually are booked for a football weekend.

“It would be very bad financially for hotels and restaurants” if the game were to be canceled, Ellen said.

USC expected to make an announcement later today. An update on the school’s athletic website at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday said the game would be played in Columbia. Speculation has swirled that it would likely be moved to Sunday.

Last year, historic flooding forced USC to move its scheduled Oct. 8 home game against LSU to Baton Rouge. The move cost the athletic department a projected $3.8 million in ticket sales.

“I would imagine Georgia would be as significant, if not more,” Ellen said.

Gov. Nikki Haley said she communicated with USC athletic director Ray Tanner this morning.

When to play the game “is a complete school decision,” Haley said. “What we did talk about is that if they went forward with the game there would be no state resources that we could offer. The 100 to 200 troopers that they usually request or need would not be available to them because we have to make sure that they are on the roads and taking care of drivers.

“… Right now they’re looking to see if they can do it with the assets they have in place. They also may borrow from Richland County to supplement what they get from the state.”

The National Hurricane Center’s 11 a.m. update showed Matthew located about 180 miles southeast of West Palm Beach, Fla., with maximum sustained winds of 140 mph making it a Category 4 storm. A hurricane warning was extended north to Edisto Beach.

The storm was expected to cross the northwestern Bahamas later today before taking a north-northwest turn toward the east coast of the Florida Peninsula tonight. Hurricane conditions, including potential storm surge and expected rainfall totals of 4 to 8 inches in coastal areas, were expected in South Carolina by early Saturday. 

At Vista dining staple The Blue Marlin, owner Ryan Dukes said his restaurant had a full slate of Friday night reservations with a standard amount of business booked for Saturday.

“We think we’ll be busy, and we think it’s going to be a mixture of the (evacuees) coming in from Charleston, the people coming in from Georgia to see the game, and just our local residents that are already here,” Dukes said. 

On a typical Saturday with a USC night game, Dukes said the lunch and pregame crowd is heavy, with business slowing during the game. Day games see the reverse, with a big postgame dinner crowd – as long as Mother Nature doesn’t interfere.

“If we want to mark this week in October as being the week that we’re going to suffer all this stuff, then we’ll just close down and take vacation,” Dukes said.

Columbia Regional Business Report editor Chuck Crumbo contributed to this article.

Contact Melinda Waldrop at 803-726-7542.

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