As Jacksonville prepares, Super Bowl also impacts area
Published: Tuesday, February 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 1, 2005 at 12:29 a.m.
Repercussions of Super Bowl XXXIX will be felt far beyond the city limits of Jacksonville.
In fact, ripples are emanating outward from the Alltel Stadium epicenter to communities as far away as Lake City, Gainesville, Ocala, Daytona Beach - even Orlando.
For tourism officials, this is all a very good thing. The number of visitors to Florida fell last fall, diminished by a spate of hurricanes and rising gasoline prices.
But here come some football teams from Philadelphia and Boston, and their many snow-weary fans, to give a huge boost to the industry. At least for a week or so, Gainesville is going to be awash in extra tourism dollars.
Roland Loog, director of the Alachua County Visitors and Convention Bureau, said he began preparations in earnest when the the number of potential Super Bowl teams was whittled down to eight. He called newspapers to get advertising rates. Four weeks ago, he called most of the area hotels and motels and discovered that the 4,300 available rooms were already 60 percent booked for the Feb. 4-7 weekend.
"Then when it got down to the two teams, the strategy was to invite fans to 'Fly here. Stay here.' But in the meantime, the remaining rooms got booked. Now that theme would be 'Fly here. But you have to stay somewhere else,' " he said with a laugh.
He said the bureau is now trying to persuade the travelers who do have rooms here to stay in Gainesville for a while and visit local attractions, such as the Butterfly Rainforest, and the Devil's Millhopper. He's even trying to lure fans staying elsewhere to make a day trip here to explore the community, and then perhaps come back another time for a longer visit.
Adding to all this business is a large number of local events on Super Bowl weekend.
"The town got busy. There's competition at Canterbury, a parents' weekend at the university, Riverdance at the Phillips Center and Gator basketball, swimming, diving, gymnastics and tennis meets. And don't forget the NFL-sanctioned Hoggetowne Medieval Fair, which draws thousands of people. We're delighted. This should be fun," Loog said.
Gainesville routinely fills Ben Hill Griffin stadium with about 90,000 fans, and hosts huge crowds at Gatornationals. What's the problem with accommodating a mere 79,000 fans in a city the size of Jacksonville?
Loog explains: "They're expecting lots more people than that. For the Super Bowl, about twice as many come as get in the stadium. They want to be in the same city as their team, take some vacation, hang out at Riverwalk, take in the NFL experience."
Rates at other motels and hotels have skyrocketed, but are still legal, Loog said.
Highest and lowest rates are posted inside the doors of accommodations.
An example of higher rates is the Days Inn near I-10 and U.S. 441, in Lake City, which is 66 miles and almost a straight shot to Alltel Stadium. Guests will pay $200 a night, double occupancy, this weekend. The following weekend, they will pay $200 for three nights.
The Herlong Mansion in Micanopy also is booked, but has not changed its rates. The desk clerk said regular room rates "which range from $79 to $189 a night for weekends" would still be charged.
The Hilton University of Florida Conference Center has all its 248 rooms booked, with a two-week cancellation required, and holiday and game rates are in effect. Rooms are a little less than $300 a night.
The Best Western in Palatka also is fully booked; double-occupancy rooms for Super Bowl weekend are $144 a night. Usual weekend rates are between $76 and $130 a night.
Elaine Funk, spokeswoman for the Gainesville Regional Airport, said that while ASA/Delta incoming flights are full this weekend, and US Airways is overbooked, there are no immediate plans to bring in more carriers.
"They're running as normal. But if there comes a need next week, Delta can bring in more carriers," Funk said.
Across the tarmac at University Air Center, general manager Jay Curtis said air traffic there will be equal to, if not slightly more than, a regular UF home football game. The fixed-base operator is the destination of private pilots with airplanes, charters and jets. A normal weekend sees about 20 flights. Judging from reservations, Curtis said, Super Bowl weekend will see 150 aircraft lined up, one a chartered Boeing 737.
Almost all are from out of town, Curtis said, and heading to the game.
He said he charges a ramp fee, but the main impact will be bag handling and, of course, fuel. "They'll all need fuel before they leave."
Airplane fuel is $3.32 a gallon this week. A 737 holds about 6,000 gallons of fuel, according to Curtis, who said that other small area airparks are also packed.
A check with most of the car rental agencies shows there will be few vehicles available for rent.
And Andy Bailey of Bailey Travel Network in Gainesville said his company has booked seven charter buses "with 55 passengers apiece" to go to Jacksonville and back on Super Bowl Sunday. The charters, which usually cost $800 a day, are $2,500 on that day, he said, and Super Bowl packages "which included tickets and accommodations "were being handled by the Daytona and Orlando offices of his network.
A Candie's Limousine is expecting a busy weekend. Depending on package - transportation one way, round trip or longer stays - fees are between $2,000 and $4,000 for the upcoming weekend.
There's no question sports bars and other places with televisions will be packed. NFL forbids anyone else from charging admission to view the game. But that doesn't mean there won't be specials.
Dan McCann, co-owner and manager of Beef O'Brady's at Millhopper (which has 30 television sets), said the sports bar is having a game-watching party, with specials and prizes. But he said he is also planning for a larger number of customers than usual on Saturday and Monday, since there will be more people from out of town here. He is also bracing for a large take-out business on game day.
Marina Blomberg can be reached at 374-5025 or email@example.com.
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