This summer’s total solar eclipse may not have been the cash cow many Casper officials predicted, according to recently released sales tax numbers.
While a comprehensive study of eclipse-related tourism won’t be out until November, initial reports show that the event did not significantly boost Casper’s sales tax revenue, according to a recent memo sent from the city’s Financial Division to City Manager Carter Napier.
Sales taxes collected in August — which were distributed in October — were only 8 percent higher than in 2016, the memo read. And taxes were down slightly from those collected the previous two months.
Tax revenue specifically attributed to accommodation and food service was even “less remarkable,” the memo continued, saying it was only 2 percent higher than the same month in 2016.
City officials spent years preparing for the event, which was projected to bring in about 35,000 visitors, and included a festival with dozens of vendors, street performers, musicians and food trucks situated in the heart of Casper’s revitalized downtown.
It began Aug. 17 and culminated on Aug. 21—the day of the total solar eclipse.
Local businesses seem split on the event’s impact.
Crystal Corson, the owner of Philly Steak and Company, said the establishment was largely empty during the festival, which was especially disappointing since she had ordered about three times more food than usual in anticipation of large crowds.
“If my food vendors hadn’t taken the food back that I ordered, I would have gone bankrupt,” she said.
Corson said it appeared the festival didn’t bring as many visitors to the city as officials had hoped, and those who did come mostly flocked downtown.
Sanford’s Pub & Grub Manager Brady Calkins shared a similar story. The business, located along Wyoming Boulevard, ordered twice the normal amount of food, but had actually had fewer customers than usual during the eclipse.
Calkins suspects that many travelers may have brought their own food along, but said he also felt that the city promoted downtown businesses, as opposed to those on the outskirts.
Other restaurants had drastically different experiences.
Sherrie Lopez, the owner of Sherri’s Place along West Yellowstone Highway, said her restaurant was packed the week of the eclipse.
“I would say we had five times as much business [as usual],” she said, adding that she met customers from all over the world, including Hong Kong and Australia.
Jacob Hoffman, the marketing manager at Racca’s Pizzeria Napoletana, said the South Ash Street restaurant attracted a mix of visitors and locals and experienced its highest sales point ever during the festival.
Many of Casper’s lodging facilities confirmed Monday that the festival was beneficial for their establishments. The following hotels and inns reported being sold-out the week of the eclipse: MainStay Suites, Ramada Plaza Casper Hotel and Conference Center, Hampton Inn and Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, La Quinta Inn, Candlewood Suites, Best Western Plus Casper Inn & Suites and Super 8 Casper West.
Pete Meyers, the city’s assistant support services director, confirmed Monday that it appears the city did not see an “enormous bump” in terms of sales tax, but said that doesn’t mean the festival wasn’t a success.
“I think a lot of people came to town, they saw Casper, they had a wonderful time and left with a wonderful impression of the city and the state of Wyoming,” he explained.
Meyers said city officials are waiting until the in-depth study from the department of tourism is released before drawing any official conclusions.
Stating that she only heard positive feedback from visitors, Mayor Kenyne Humphrey previously told the Star-Tribune that she considered the festival to be a massive success that she hoped would lead to a permanent increase in tourism.
“It was perfect,” she said. “I don’t think it could have gone any better.”
The matter will be further discussed during City Council’s work session on Tuesday night.