PORT RICHEY — The tourists return today, in search of a purple and yellow building where gum is forbidden, sweatbands are popular and Hannah Montana stickers are available.
Area hotels, rejoice: The roller skaters are back.
Believe it or not, the Southern Region Roller Skating Championship competitions, held at Spinnations on Congress Street, pull in more out-of-towners to local hotels than all the better-known events in the county.
In the past four years, the speed and figure skating competitions have attracted nearly 750 people each year who spent the nights in Pasco hotels.
Contrast that with Chasco Fiesta, which counted roughly 150, and the San Antonio Rattlesnake Festival, which reported 115.
Only Volkswagen lovers can compete with the skaters: The annual Bug Jam in Dade City reported slightly more than 700 overnight visitors.
Hotel guests are a key piece of the tourism picture: Not only do they spend their dollars in local establishments, but they also pay the "bed tax" used to promote Pasco and build amenities to attract more tourists.
Pasco tourist officials track the hotel registrations associated with roughly 20 events receiving a total of $75,000 in county marketing grants. The Southern Region Roller Skating Tournament got a $5,864 grant.
In some ways, the tournament's place at the top of the county list shouldn't be too surprising. It is a must-do for the skaters in seven Southeastern states who want to attend the national championship.
"This is a major stepping stone for those participants," said Pasco tourism coordinator Eric Keaton.
Officials putting on the roller skating tournament have also devised a good way of counting how many of their participants are staying at the hotels. Angela Serini, the event coordinator, said all of the skaters are asked at registration to fill out cards saying where they are staying and how many guests are staying with them.
To help substantiate the figures, she also sends out letters to participants a few weeks before the event, asking them to register in advance and let the hotels know they are attending the tournament. She then checks her figures with the hotels' tallies.
Serini said the tournament is a boon for other local businesses, too: Organizers use a local printer, a local photographer and a local florist. (First-place winners get carnations.)
"We generate a lot of business for local restaurants, as all of these out-of-towners have to eat somewhere," she said.
Among roller skating rink owners, Southern Region Roller Skating Championship is a big deal.
The rinks must meet qualifications — certain floor size and number of hotels nearby, for instance — before they bid on the event, said Spinnations co-owner Rhoda Balay.
Geography also plays a part, said Serini: Most of the skating clubs in the Southeast are in Florida, making the state the most likely host. And within Florida, Pasco is centrally located.
Balay and her husband, Jim, renovated the rink shortly after buying it a decade ago. They put in coaches' offices, locker rooms, new air conditioning and a new $35,000 hardwood floor.
A former competitive roller skater, Balay said she knew from the beginning that she wanted to host the event.
"I always wanted it," she said. "It's the prestige."
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.