Good Question: How much of an economic impact will the eclipse have?

    COLUMBIA, SC (WACH) - For many, next week's total solar eclipse is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

    It also will mean big money for the Columbia metropolitan area. Columbia is in what's called the "path of totality."

    That means more than two and half minutes of darkness on the afternoon of August 21.

    Plenty of time for eclipse gazers to watch the phenomenon. Plenty of those gazers are also flocking to the area.

    Some estimate upwards of one million people. Others say anywhere from 500 thousand to 700 thousand.

    Or maybe those numbers are as sky high as the sun itself.

    "Is it a good thing for the city of Columbia. Definitely," said Dr. Tom Regan, graduate director of USC's Department of Sports and Entertainment. "Is it an opportunity to showcase your city? Yes. Are there going to be 1 million people in columbia? No."

    Regan has done countless economic impact studies. He says projecting the impact of eclipse weekend can be difficult because, unlike sporting events, there isn't any data to draw conclusions from.

    The impact of the total eclipse has been compared to an SEC football weekend times ten. On average, those bring in roughly $7 million to the Columbia area.

    Without a doubt, the Columbia area is about to get an influx of people. Hotels are booked solid. Almost 12,000 rooms are full. Others are renting out homes.

    But, Regan says not everyone is an eclipse gazer. Some of those rooms are booked by families ready to move in USC's biggest class ever. Those numbers can't be included in the eclipse count.

    And, according to Regan pumping up the attendance figures ahead of time might even scare off the casual eclipse watcher from a prime viewing spot like Columbia.

    "I always caution people that you're saying there's going to be so many people here, that some people will not come to stay away from the crowds. That happened at the Atlanta olympics," said Regan. "I always compare it to going to a concert or a NASCAR race. If it takes you 4 or 5 hours to get out of there, you don't hold to the good memories. You remember how long it took you to get out."

    The impression Columbia makes is what matters most for what Regan estimates will be about 350,000 people in the area.

    Some of them will be day-trippers, others will be here for all of total eclipse weekend.

    And Regan says if you get $20 a day out of each one, it will be a success.

    "A natural event is just so much greater than a man-made event or game that we're doing," said Regan. "This is nature at its finest."

    If estimates hold up it could mean approximately $50 million for the region.

    But, we won't know that, of course, until all the receipts are tallied. Until then, all we know for certain is that the sun is taking a quick siesta for about two minutes and 43 seconds on Monday afternoon.

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