Back in March, when some event owners were just tiptoeing back into the game, Palm Beach County was hosting the Tim Rand Invite, with 850 youth gymnasts.
The event was especially noteworthy since in 2020, it was the last indoor youth event to be presented before the shutdown. And according to George Linley, executive director of the Palm Beach County Sports Commission, it was entirely fitting that event could return.
“It was just serendipitous,” Linley said. “COVID was shutting everything down and the Tim Rand was going on. We went into a complete lockdown just as they were finishing up.”
Linley remembers county officials gathering at the convention center that day to discuss the next steps to be taken.
“Everything changed that day. We were saying our farewells to the event rightsholders, to USA Competitions who was the promoter – nobody knew where this road was taking us.”
A year later, the Tim Rand invitational returned to the Palm Beach County Convention Center.
“It was just so symbolic,” said Linley. “That month was our largest step forward and that meet was a sign that we were starting to come back.”
In 2020, the meet hosted 1,600 gymnasts between the ages of five and 18 and used about 2,500 room nights. In 2021, about 850 gymnasts participated, using the entire facility. Different doors were used for entering and exiting the building and because Palm Beach County had a mask order in place, everyone except for athletes who were actively competing, was required to wear a mask. Social distancing was strongly encouraged. Gymnasts were also asked to bring their own chalk instead of sharing it with fellow competitors.
“We had a very safe and responsible layout,” said Linley.
It doesn’t hurt that the Palm Beach County Convention Center can lend itself to safety. The 350,000-square-foot venue features a 100,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a 22,000-square-foot ballroom, and 21,000 square feet of flexible breakout space divisible into 19 rooms.
Athletes who participated in the Tim Rand represented several states as far west as Colorado, although the balance of the field hailed from Florida. The competition offered 10 different divisions based on experience level; novice competitors comprised level one while advanced entrants made up level 10. The event was divided into both team and individual competitions with participants performing in floor, beam, bars and vault.
Organizers arranged the competition schedule to keep too many contestants from gathering together at one time and spectators were limited.
Linley estimated that about 1,500 room nights were used, and that the economic impact was perhaps half of last year’s total (which was just under $1 million).
“That being said, it was still a huge victory for us,” he noted. “The event went off with no issues and provided a strong surge to the hotel community in Palm Beach County. I think the biggest victory, more so than anything is that we hosted an indoor sporting event, and this one is the largest indoor gymnastics event in Florida. To be able to host it a year after from when our county shut down, and to have that very last event return to us – it was almost surreal.”
And, he noted, Palm Beach County is not just entering the comeback but running toward it. Among the events that have taken place since the Tim Rand have been the Honda Classic (which has come to the PGA National Resort & Spa every year since 2007). The APP Delray Beach Pickleball Open brought in 1,000 athletes. In April, Spartan Race came to town and as the destination moves into summer, it is getting ready to host some large amateur baseball tournaments.
Some events, of course, have been modified. Last year’s Honda Classic (which carries the reputation as being one of the most fan-friendly events in golf) hosted 206,000 spectators; this year’s hosted 10,000 per day (for a total of about 50,000) – still an impressive number.
In addition, hotel occupancy rates in the area have surpassed 80 percent for the first time in a year. The last time occupancy rates were at this level was on March 6, 2020, shortly before Florida’s State of Emergency was issued to restrict hotel reservations to “essential lodgers” only.
Palm Beach County has already hit some remarkable high notes and all the indicators are positive.
“We’re preparing for a full recovery this summer,” Linley concluded.