Long Beach : opens door for religion

L.B. opens door for religion
Local: Jehovah’s Witnesses event good for the soul — and the economy.
By Felix Sanchez, Staff writer

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Rudy and Helen Leewaye of Santa Ana, right, and grandson Matthew Leewaye of Orange listen and take notes. (Carl Hidalgo / Correspondent)

LONG BEACH — It’s designed to be a spiritual boost for more than 140,000 people, but for the Long Beach Convention Center and local tourism officials, the 12-weekend long gathering of Jehovah’s Witnesses getting under way today is one of the city’s biggest economic salvations.
The annual convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses, taking place simultaneously in 73 cities across the United States with 266 conventions scheduled before summer’s end, is one of the religion’s biggest ongoing events, drawing millions.

In Long Beach, the “Deliverance At Hand!” assembly begins its 12-weekend run today and continues through Sept. 10 at the Convention Center Arena.

More than 10,000 people, heavily dominated by families, will attend this first weekend, said James Brown, a Jehovah’s Witnesses spokesman.

And as the convention meetings stretch through the summer, they will take on an international flavor, with six of the sessions held in Spanish and one in Japanese.

Steve Goodling, president and CEO of the Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the Jehovah’s Witnesses bring in significant visitor dollars, especially by the number of rooms they book during the summer the equivalent of 30,000 room nights at hotels in Long Beach and the immediate area.

This all adds up to a nearly $4 million economic impact over the 12 weeks, Goodling said.

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Friday’s Jehovah’s Witnesses gathering was attended by a full house at the Long Beach Convention Center. The 12-weekend long event continues through Sept. 10. (Carl Hidalgo / Correspondent)

“Watchtower (Jehovah’s Witnesses) is a great group because they come in 12 consecutive times during the summer. They provide us with a great amount of business,” Goodling said.

They also are good tenants, he said.

“They will come in and clean the actual arena and other areas they are using. So there’s a personal pride in the facility that they use,” Goodling said.

Previously, Jehovah’s Witnesses carpenters and other specialty crafters built a $5,000 concierge desk in the Promenade Lobby and completely renovated the center’s Seaside meeting rooms, a $2.5 million project in which the group provided all labor and materials, including carpets and lights.

Because so many rooms are booked during the summer, often at special rates that appeal to the families who are paying out of their own pocket to visit the city, it also allows Long Beach hotels and the Convention Center to sell the remaining space at a premium price, Goodling said.

And the Jehovah’s Witnesses conventions fit into the summertime trend where most visitors tend to be those looking for less expensive room and travel rates, he said.

The rest of the year is dominated by professional associations and corporate conventions where higher rates are more readily paid by people who are traveling on the business expense account.

During the summer, “we go after groups that are more social, such as anime or religious organizations because (travelers) make this their holiday,” Goodling said.

Brown said the religious organization likes Long Beach because the family-oriented attractions in the city and region fit into the theme of their meetings. The group has been meeting in Long Beach regularly since 1995.

“It’s centrally located and has hotels that our attendees love to stay in,” Brown said. “A lot of our attendees come in early and the city is so cordial.”

A worldwide organization, Jehovah’s Witnesses link their beliefs to the faith of 1st century Christianity. Witnesses believe God is the creator of all things and that Jesus, the son of God, rules as the King of Heaven after sacrificing himself to make eternal salvation possible for those who have faith in him.

There are more than 1 million Witnesses in the United States and 6.6 million worldwide in more than 98,000 congregations.


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