Finding space for spectators: Where will all the UCI Road World Championship fans go?

Only four months or so until the biggest event Richmond has ever hosted brings upwards of 400,000 visitors over the course of nine days. Where will they all stay? How will they get around? How do we even begin to comprehend that number?

Update #1 — May 14, 2015; 3:14 PM

Regarding numbers

There’s a lot of confusion over the number that UCI has published, and the one we refer to below. They do not expect 450,000 individual, unique, flesh-and-blood iterations of human beings to descend upon our city. That number refers to “on-site spectators”–meaning that if you attend for four days, you will be counted four times. It also includes Richmonders.

After speaking with Richmond Region Tourism, we learned that there is no hard and fast number of expected human beings. As a rule, they don’t project those numbers so as not to promise/warn about a number that may or may not be accurate.

What does this mean? Well, it means that we don’t have to find hotel space for a half million people, which is great, but it also means that we don’t actually know how many people are coming. Safely, we can estimate that it’ll be less than 450,000, we’d say.

Clear as mud? We’re going to do some more research and get back to you later with a follow-up about these numbers and what they mean for us.

Regarding the legality of renting your home out

We got a comment from the reader about his tale of zoning woes–in that he was contacted to remove his Airbnb listing because it was not in compliance with zoning rules. City of Richmond Ordinances, Ordinance 114-1220 states:

Dwelling unit means a room or group of rooms within a building constituting a separate and independent unit occupied or intended for occupancy by one family and containing one kitchen and provisions for living, sleeping, eating and sanitation, all of which are generally accessible to all occupants of the unit, and which is not available for occupancy for periods of less than one month.

After talking to Zoning, we can clarify the non-specific regulations we referred to below. The above rule stands, but they are working with City Council to try and make that more extensive and inclusive, now that things like Airbnb exist. So yes, they do have specific regulations, but those are currently being researched and are subject to change.

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Original — May 12, 2015

The UCI Road World Championships (also known as the Worlds) (or, in our office, the Big Bike Race™, bonus points if you say “TM” out loud) will take over most of Richmond in September, and organizers speculate that up to 450,000–more than twice the city’s population–will be flocking to Richmond at some point during the nine-day event. Back in 2011, Richmond snagged the honor of hosting the 2015 cycling competition, and preparations are still being made for the arrival of the athletes, media, and fans. That they’re coming is certain. Where we’re going to put them is not.

“It’s going to be like the Easter Parade or [Monument Ave] 10k for twelve days.”

“It’s going to be like the Easter Parade or [Monument Ave] 10k for twelve days,” says Lacy Williams, an associate broker with Joyner Fine Properties, who is working with locals to rent their homes to visitors during the Worlds.

Williams says she wants to see Richmond get the economic benefit of the event. One way to do this is to make room for more spectators to stay in Richmond. If someone spends the night in Fredericksburg and drives to the race, for instance, Fredericksburg is going to get the bulk of that person’s money.

Since there hasn’t been an event of this size in Richmond before, Williams and her partner studied how other cities handled rentals (for example, Augusta, Georgia, which hosts the Masters golf tournament). The properties up for rent are mostly in the Fan district or Downtown. To be considered convenient to the Worlds, Williams says, the home needs to be either within walking distance to the race course or close to a bus line.

There are more than 60 hotels that are offering special rates during the race. Only a handful of these are located within city limits–and Downtown hotels including the Holiday Inn Express, Hilton Garden Inn, and the Courtyard Richmond Downtown are booked–while others are as far away as Doswell. The Richmond 2015 Travel Office is still working on a complete transportation plan to include shuttle services to the events.1

In a briefing (PDF) last month, Mayor Dwight C. Jones and other city officials outlined the progress of preparations for the Worlds, including beautification and emergency preparedness. The bulk of the focus is on sidewalks and roads, but something that could also help the 400,000 visitors–informational and directional signs for city landmarks–will only be 60% completed.

A recent search of Airbnb in Richmond for “bike race” and “UCI” shows listings from $70 for a room to a house for $2000 a night.

While a new visitor center has opened inside the Bass Pro Shops off I-95 in Ashland, the planned visitor center located at the Robinson House next to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts will not open before the Worlds as planned, according to the Communications office at VMFA. Richmond Region Tourism will be training ambassadors to assist with tourist information.

The use of peer-to-peer rentals or home shares could keep a tourist within city limits. A recent search of Airbnb in Richmond for “bike race” and “UCI” shows listings from $70 for a room to a house for $2000 a night (which accommodates up to eight people). Some rooms available to rent through Airbnb come with a tour guide, since the main occupant will be at home. Richmond doesn’t have specific regulations for an individual who rents a home or room to another person. Style Weekly reported that City Council is looking into charging a tax– similar to a hotel tax–for city residents who use Airbnb.

Even after taxes or fees associated with renting, swapping your place in the city with a Worlds spectator could have mutual benefits. The city gets a new visitor and the additional expenses that person has, the visitor is close to the course, and, Williams says, “If you get a good price on your house, you can go on a vacation” and get out of the city to avoid the inconveniences of the race.

If you don’t need the money, but have the space and want to take in some foreign cyclists, Richmond Athlete Hospitality needs locals to host the nearly 200 athletes who don’t have official sponsorship and have to pay out-of-pocket to compete. Volunteers can also sign up to help these athletes with transportation, local assistance, and funds (otherwise an event participant could end up at a motel in Stafford, need to find a ride to the Bass Pro Shop in Ashland to learn how to navigate Richmond, get lost by the lack of signs, and then can’t find a place to park).

Details remain to be worked out, and the roads used for races aren’t scheduled to be ready until less than a month before the event begins. With an anticipated 300 million television viewers, the world will be watching Richmond. Viewers at home may have an easier time finding it.

  1. Other hotels close to the course, including the Omni and Crowne Plaza, are part of fan packages. Flight Centre Active Travel has a four-night package at the Omni plus a behind-the-scenes look at the race for $799 for two people (meaning, two people have to pay $799). Other packages available include hotels, the tour, and a chance to cycle on the race track at Richmond International Raceway, which starts at $1025 each for two people. 
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Kelly Gerow

Kelly Gerow lives and writes in Richmond. She probably does other stuff in Richmond, too.

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