The streets of South Bend are busy this week due to some big events going on in town.
The America’s Youth on Parade (AYOP) competition is in full swing. More than 4,000 visitors are staying in area hotels for up to six nights.
The general manager at the Inn at St. Mary’s said AYOP is like a home game weekend times three because people are staying three times longer than they would for a Notre Dame game.
The moment guests pull into the Inn at St. Mary’s, it is hard to miss the presence of some extra sparkle.
“We come here every summer for nationals,” said Riley Kelly, one of the AYOP participants.
The halls inside the hotel turn into impromptu practice rooms. Little girls in colorful performance gear twirl their batons and smile at the bystanders.
For coach Tammi Koel, this is all part of the routine. Koel has been coming to South Bend for AYOP since she was three years old.
“It’s been 31 years,” Koel said. “I’ve been to South Bend 31 consecutive years. I’ve almost been here a full year of my life.”
Koel’s team alone is filling up 90 hotel rooms.
“We’re one of the largest groups here,” she said.
The hotel’s manager is all smiles despite the week’s fast pace. The staff is giving out pink hotel room keys to guests, to go along with the AYOP theme.
“We look forward to it every year,” said Kim Allsop, manager at the Inn at St. Mary’s.
Competition week is important for South Bend hotels because when the twirlers come to town the rooms fill up.
“Right now we have 90 percent of the hotel sold out to the groups,” Allsop said. “Out of 150 rooms, 90 percent belong to groups.”
In 2013, AYOP competition visitors filled more than 4,000 hotel rooms and brought in about $2.8 million. The economic boost is comparable to a football weekend.
“They spend a lot of money in South Bend – this is serious for them,” Allsop said.
Two youth baseball tournament are going on this week, too. The events are expected to fill 1700 hotel rooms in the area.