BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Chef Stuart Tracy normally closes his Bismarck restaurant on Mondays but not when the biennial energy expo comes to town that spotlights North Dakota's prosperous oil patch.
The three-day Williston Basin Petroleum Conference and Expo starts Tuesday at the Bismarck Civic Center, which is undergoing a $27 million expansion, in part because of the soaring interest in the oil conference. The event, the biggest ever scheduled in Bismarck, is expected to inject about $2.5 million into the city and neighboring Mandan, said Sheri Grossman, Bismarck-Mandan Convention and Visitors Bureau's chief operating officer.
"We want to capture some of that revenue stream," said Tracy, owner of The Pirogue Grille, a tony 70-seat eatery in downtown Bismarck.
North Dakota Petroleum Council spokeswoman Tessa Sandstrom said some 4,000 people are expected to attend the conference. People come from more than 48 states and countries as far away as France, Norway and Nigeria, she said.
The event brings together engineers, geologists, investors, CEOs and government officials for seminars and networking.
Started in 1993 with just a handful of attendees, the expo is sponsored by the Sandstrom's group, the state Department of Mineral Resources and the Saskatchewan Ministry of Energy and Resources.
The event has alternated in recent years between locations in North Dakota and Canada. It was last held in Bismarck two years ago, and brought in about 4,000 people, the biggest influx of visitors to the state's capital city since a professional bowling tournament rolled into town more than 30 years ago.
The expo drew only a few hundred people until a few years ago. But now in its 22nd year, it has grown with the booming oil production in North Dakota, which has gone from the nation's ninth-biggest oil producer in 2006 to second, behind only Texas.
Booth space sold out in record time for oil conference this year. Organizers said the more than 500 available booths were gone in four minutes.
Individual expo-goers who pre-registered were charged $500 to attend but the cost increases to $700 for those who show up while the conference is in progress. Sandstrom said about 300 people paid the premium price as "walk-ins" two years ago and she expects similar activity this year.
Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity has been tabbed as the keynote speaker for the conference. More than 160 people had paid the $25 fee by late last week solely to see Hannity, Sandstrom said.
Grossman, of the convention and visitors bureau, said almost all of the 3,100 hotel rooms in the Bismarck area were full leading into the conference. The metropolitan area has added about 500 rooms since the expo was held in Bismarck two years ago. Blocks of hotel rooms also have been set aside in Dickinson and Jamestown, cities that are two hours away by car.
Restaurants and rental cars also are already booked and Bismarck's airport expects at least 50 oil company-owned business jets to crowd the tarmac, she said.
"Obviously, this is our largest conference and a nice way to showcase the area to people from all over the world," Grossman said. "This could easily be held in another city, like Denver. But we're going to show them that everything they need is here."
Tracy, owner of the upscale downtown restaurant, said the expo brings business comparable to Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve, his busiest days. He's doing his part to make well-heeled oilmen feel at home. On the menu next week is bison steak with foie gras butter.