One point five million dollars; that is the amount of money first expected to come into Orange County because of the Bassmaster Elite Series Sabine River Challenge March 14-17. Bobby Fillyaw, director of the Orange County Economic Development Corp. said the $1.5 million was the amount indicated by an economic impact study that was done in anticipation of the event.

Fillyaw admits that number is very conservative, because some things have come to light that weren’t even considered when doing the original economic study.

“We really think the $1.5 million that we first thought is probably going to be much, much higher impact than we originally planned,” said Fillyaw.

They did not foresee the multitudes of fishermen that came to the area prior to Feb. 11 to scope out the lay of the land and hunt for the fishing hotspots before the tournament.

“They were coming in and out for a couple of months, fishing our waters and learning about the river and those kinds of things,” said Fillyaw. “They stayed in our hotels and ate at the restaurants. We didn’t even consider that when we were doing the economic impact study.”

The study was also done before many other activities were planned such as the Riverfront Festival, free concerts, a free laser show, Art in the Park and more.

Jack Patel of Holiday Inn Express said he believes the economic impact for hotels will be felt in a 50 mile radius. “They’re expecting over 10,000 people in one day,” said Patel. “It’s equivalent to a Super bowl,” he said. “It’s that big. It’s enormous.”

Patel feels the impact will be felt for years with all the media attention the tournament will bring to Orange County. “We’re going to be showing the world what we have here.”

“As for the hotels,” said Patel, “we are all excited and they’re all doing fantastic from a booking point of view. The hardest kicker is the boat hook-ups.” Patel said most of the boats need electrical hookups at hotels to charge their batteries. “That’s something I’m hoping we can cater to for these professional fisherpeople. I think what we have at the hotel should be fine. I’m sure the professionals have scoped that out prior to that.”

He said from a business point of view, the economy is improving anyway and the tournament is a “super bonus.”

It’s fantastic for this town,” said Patel. “People that come to fish will know that we exist and we have a beautiful waterfront for fishing and such. That’s a plus.”

He hopes the tournament will become a yearly event.

Patel mentioned the former public relations campaign hosted by the Stark Foundation of planting seeds and “Watch Orange Grow.” “I guess this is one of the seeds that have been planted,” he said.

“Hotels shouldn’t be a problem, we have lots of rooms. It’s a very big plus.”

Patel is excited about all the extra activities that have been planned for participants and spectators. “It’s not just like come and fish and go. There is so much to do. This town is going the extra mile. This is a perfect opportunity for everybody to be a team player,” he said.

“We can’t even fathom how much hard work has been put into this,” said Patel. He credits David Jones of Gopher Industries and John Gothia as being instrumental in bringing the tournament to Orange.

The Stark Foundation is the sponsor for the event and will have all of its venues open with related exhibits. Area chambers of commerce, the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Orange County Economic Development Corp. and others have put countless hours into the endeavor.

Launch will be at 6:30 a.m. at the Orange Boat Ramp each day, with weigh-in at 3:15 p.m. The Riverfront Festival runs all four days: 2-10 p.m. Thurs, 11 a.m.-11p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday.

Musical entertainment begins at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, 11 a.m. Saturday and 1:30-2 p.m. Sunday. Fireworks on Saturday immediately following the Neal McCoy concert that begins at 5 p.m.

A free Laser show will be held at the Lutcher Theater parking lot at 8 p.m., Friday.

Art in the Park will be held 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday at Stark Park.

Orange Trade Days will be open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday-Sunday at 200 Turret off Simmons.

Southeast Texas Transit buses will run shuttle service from the parking lots of the Lutcher Theater, Shangri La Botanical Gardens and the Capital One Bank off Green Avenue to the festival grounds/boat ramp Friday-Sunday.

“We’re really looking forward to this. It’s going to be a great event,” said Fillyaw.

“Can you imagine 10,000 people in one day?” said Patel.

Bobby Fillyaw pictured above.

About Penny LeLeux

Penny has worked at The Record Newspapers since 2006. A member of the editorial staff, she has "done everything but print it." Most frequently she writes entertainment reviews and human interest stories, with a little paranormal thrown in from time to time.She has been a lifelong member of the Orangefield community.