Local businesses are already seeing a boost in business from the first wave of media arriving to cover the pre-trial hearings of accused Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan.
Around 30 news organizations and 247 reporters have registered with Fort Hood to cover the trial, many of whom are expected to sleep and eat in Killeen hotels and restaurants.
Hensan Timo, owner of the C&H Hawaiian Grill on Rancier, said he hired three new employees in the past month because of a recent spike in business.
“It is really hard for me to put my finger on exactly what the increase is, if it is because of the case or not,” Timo said. “We always anticipate that there will be a bigger crowd.”
C&H Hawaiian Grill was one of the restaurants recommended by the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce in a press kit sent to all of the media registered to cover the trial.
Timo said his business has seen a 30 percent increase comparing recent figures to the same time last year.
“I don’t know if that increase is related to the case but we have been getting a lot of good press and that has helped,” Timo said.
Mired by delays, Hasan’s court-martial was set to start May 29, and it’s unclear when it may begin. Hasan is accused of killing 13 and wounding 32 on Nov. 5, 2009, and the pending trial is drawing worldwide attention.
The chamber has taken an active role in painting the city in a positive light, despite negative reviews the city has received from national media in the past.
“One event does not define a community,” said Jonathan Packer, senior vice president of business development at the chamber. “As a community we have a great story to tell and (the chamber) just wants to be a resource for those who come to our city.”
More than 20 Killeen hotels have requested additional newspapers in anticipation for the trial, in order to provide the visitors with up-to-date local stories and background.
City officials expect to hold more events and conferences as the trial heats up, said Connie Kuehl, director of the Killeen Civic and Conference Center, which receives revenue through the hotel occupancy tax.
“I know we will see a spike,” Kuehl said.
Visitors checking into hotels in Killeen pay a 13 percent tax, a combination 6 percent state tax and 7 percent local tax. The local portion funds entities such as the Killeen Arts Commission.
Those staying more than 30 consecutive days are exempt from the tax.
Most reporters, however, have not been staying that long — at least not during the pretrial hearings, said David Meza, sales manager at the Courtyard by Marriott in Killeen.
“We get an influx when they think it is going to start, but then they check out,” Meza said. “They come back. They leave. They come back. They leave.”
When the trial is delayed until the next week, most customers don’t stick around for the weekend, Meza said.
“Hopefully we can get them to stay by offering them different things to do in the area,” he said.