BRADENTON -- The Bradenton Blues Festival is expected to not only fill the streets this weekend in the city's historic downtown, but it's selling out pretty much every nearby hotel bed available.
With organizers already seeing higher ticket sales than last year's event, the third annual festival has sold out downtown hotels and is predicted to send limited business to other area establishments.
It's good news for hoteliers who have long been hoping for a shot in the arm for this late-autumn weekend. While lodging on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key tends to fill this time of year as vacationers and snowbirds arrive, inland hotels need attractions to stay busy, said Elliot Falcione, director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitor's Bureau.
The Bradenton Blues Festival could bring more than the estimated 3,500 people who attended last year's event. The festival's sponsor hotel, the Courtyard by Marriott Riverfront in Bradenton, is prepared to have every one of its 153 rooms filled.
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"We try to promote the blues festival all year long," said Robyn Price, director of sales and marketing for the Courtyard by Marriott Riverfront. "We will be sold out."
Downtown's newest hotel, the recently remodeled Hampton Inn & Suites on 10th Street West, is also booked. The hotel's assistant general manager, Micki Despard, said about half of its 119 rooms will be filled with blues fans. Soccer players competing in an area tournament will occupy most of the remainder.
Despard said last year's blues festival contributed to a nearly sold-out weekend just two weeks after the Hampton opened in early December 2013. She's looking forward to a fun crowd of guests again.
"We had a blast last year," she said.
Both downtown hotels are within walking distance of the festival stages on the Bradenton Riverwalk.
Also benefitting from the event is The Londoner Bed & Breakfast. Jane Storey, the proprietor of the six-room inn, said she has three guests reserving rooms who will attend the blues festival.
Blues festival fans had to reserve rooms early to find downtown accommodations, said Johnette Isham, executive director of festival organizer Realize Bradenton. Attendees last year not only stayed overnight in downtown Bradenton, but also on Anna Maria Island and elsewhere.
Still, even as attendance has grown since the inaugural festival in 2012, the business goal of the festival is aimed at boosting Bradenton. The festival's website features the Marriott and Hampton on its website, and provides a link to other area accommodations.
"The true focus is on the downtown hotels," Isham said.
Even with the influx of out-of-town blues fans, overnight reservations aren't seeming to reach far beyond downtown. The Holiday Inn at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport had not taken reservations from any blues fans as of Thursday, nor had the Days Inn Bradenton I-75 on State Road 64. But another weekend event, the Snowbird Outlaw Nationals drag races at Bradenton Motorsports Park, has filled most of the rooms at the Days Inn.
Falcione said the blues festival has become one of a few key events drawing people to the Bradenton area. And while the event is important to keeping hotel rooms full for that weekend, it has a wider impact when it comes to bringing first-time visitors to town. Falcione said a study undertaken by the convention and visitors bureau has shown that 94 percent of first-time visitors to Bradenton will return to the city for another visit.
"What excites us about the festival is that it's one of the signature events in the downtown core that makes an impression," he said. "It's going to drive new dollars in the future."
The convention bureau did not estimate the economic impact of the blues festival's first two years, but will do so in 2014. It has, however, evaluated the upcoming Bradenton Riverwalk Regatta boat races. The Feb. 6-7 powerboat racing event is expected to generate $8 million in revenues for the Bradenton and Palmetto area. It is expected to draw up to 100,000 people, Falcione said.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter@MattAtBradenton.