NEWS

Florida-Georgia classic returns full force with football, parties, concerts - and traffic

Dan Scanlan
Florida Times-Union
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry joined city fire, police and venue officials on Monday to discuss city plans for the upcoming Florida-Georgia football game on Saturday at TIAA Bank Field.

The fans are back to watch Saturday's historic match between the Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs, plus catch the sights and sounds of Michael Buble, Luke Combs and the Bold City Bash.

A year after only 19,000 fans were allowed to attend the Florida-Georgia football classic at TIAA Bank Field due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, Jacksonville officials expect a full stadium of 76,000 at Saturday's 3:30 p.m. kickoff.

In fact, game officials really want the world to see every seat full of orange and blue, and red and black when it the first football's flight is shown on CBS.

"I am really excited about having the full football fan experience back in Jacksonville this year," said Bill McConnell, general manager of ASM Global, which manages stadium events. "... Gates open at 1:30 p.m., but fans are strongly encouraged to get in the stadium early. Get there and experience the sights and sounds of Florida-Georgia, and let's have a full stadium when the game kicks off."

And with that full stadium's occupants seeking parking spots at and around TIAA Bank Field, get there long before the gates open, Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Chief Brian Kee warns.

"If you would like to see kickoff, we advise that you are in your parking spot five hours before the game," Kee said. "... Stadium gates open at 1:30 p.m., and at that time, our focus is on the pedestrian safety and folks coming in. So if you are arriving after 1:30 p.m., you will be delayed."

Mayor Lenny Curry joined police, fire and event officials on Monday to share details leading up to this year's Florida-Georgia football game, hosted in Jacksonville since 1933.

TIAA Bank Field will be at full capacity this year versus last year's COVID-restricted seating. Extra seats normally installed by the city for the college classic will be restricted to the south end zone and the east and west clubs sides of the stadium, making attendance about 6,000 fans down from 2019 and prior years.

With thousands of fans at and around the game and city, filling an estimated 26,000 hotel rooms on the First Coast, Mayor Lenny Curry estimated the economic impact to the city at about $30 million.

"While we had the experience last year, it was a pared-back experience due to COVID protocols," Curry said. "... It's tremendous value to the city. It brings in people to fill the hotel rooms, restaurants and car services. And that generates tax dollars that also come back to the city and is also good for business as well."

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Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry (right) was joined by Bill McConnell, (left) General Manager of ASM Global and Sheriff's Office Chief Brian Kee on Monday to discuss preparations for Saturday's Florida-Georgia football game.

Florida-Georgia game brings events besides football

All the usual attractions of the Gators versus Bulldogs classic are back, as well as some new events.

RV City opens at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, moved to parking Lot E this year since the construction of the new Hart Bridge ramps took over the former site for the trailers and campers. There is room for 60 RVs.

Singer Michael Buble's concert, rescheduled after COVID-19 postponements in the past year, starts at 8 p.m. Thursday at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena. And the free Bold City Bash Concert is from 5 to 9 p.m. at Riverfront Plaza, 2011 Independent Drive, with performances by DJ Jake, Who Rescued Who and Briteside. 

On Friday, the Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame luncheon is set for noon at TIAA Bank Field's East Club, while an RV City "Show Your True Colors" Campground Decorating Contest runs from 3:30 to 7 p.m. 

Expect more traffic around downtown's sports complex when the Luke Combs Block Party and concert kicks off at 4 p.m. Friday at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena and A. Philip Randolph Boulevard between East Duval and East Bay streets, and along East Adams Street. The Florida-Georgia exhibition baseball game begins at 6:30 p.m. Friday at 121 Financial Ballpark, across from the arena.

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The Bold City Bash Fan Fare runs from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday at The Dream Finders Homes Flex Field at Daily's Place, with the Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame Exhibit and multiple football challenges. Then comes the game itself.

TIAA Bank Field's parking lots open at 8 a.m. Saturday, no overnight parking allowed, and those cars will be towed, officials said.

Florida is the home team this year, and its fans' seating will be on the west side of the stadium when stadium gates open at 1:30 p.m. Fans who want to catch the teams walking into the stadium can catch the Florida Gators arriving at about 1:20 p.m. near Gate 1, and the Georgia Bulldogs near Gate 2. 

TIAA Bank Field parking lots are pre-sold, fans encouraged to have parking passes displayed as they approach the stadium. Fans without pre-purchased parking can go to the Ford on Bay grass field behind the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront hotel for $25 per car, debit or credit card only.

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority has Gameday Xpress and shuttle services from various venues including the Florida State College at Jacksonville Downtown Campus Lot, Kings Avenue Parking Garage, Armsdale Park-n-Ride, Beaches Wingate Park and JTB Park-n-Ride locations. The service runs from 12:30 p.m. until an hour after the end of game. Shuttle tickets are $8 per person for the FSCJ Downtown and Kings Avenue locations. Tickets from all other lots are $13 per person.

Bill McConnell, the General Manager of ASM Global, talks about facility and logistical plans in place for Saturday's Florida-Georgia football game. Fire Chief Keith Powers (right) and Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Chief Brian Kee joined to discuss safety and traffic issues.

"The shuttles do get preference with an escort by JSO right to the gate," Kee said. "It is a very efficient way to get to the game." 

Police, both in uniform and undercover, will be in and around TIAA Bank Field, Kee said. The Sheriff's Office will have 11 electronic signs pointing drivers to lots.

More public safety, road closures and traffic information can also be found at jaxsheriff.org. For live game day traffic updates, passengers are encouraged to follow JSO on twitter @JSOPIO. The Florida-Georgia safety hotline is (904) 630-SAFE (7233).

dscanlan@jacksonville.com: (904) 359-4549

Florida-Georgia game day stadium safety and security information:

• Six Information and First Aid Zones will be open from noon Saturday until 30 minutes post-game with basic medical help, first aid, cell phone chargers, transportation information and more. Those are at: VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena at Duval Street and A Philip Randolph Boulevard; Daily’s Place South Lawn on Gator Bowl Boulevard; The Shipyards at Catherine and Bay streets; Lot E at TIAA Bank Field on East Adams Street off Talleyrand Avenue; the Veterans Memorial Wall near the stadium; and the Jacksonville Fire Museum on Gator Bowl Boulevard.

• Stadium's security policies will be in effect: No coolers or containers, including cans, are allowed inside. No knives, guns and any type of weapons as well as laser pointers are allowed. Clear plastic bags are allowed, and cannot be larger than 12- by 6- by 12-inches. Small clutch bags cannot be bigger than 4.5- by 6.5-inches. Cameras with detachable lenses or those longer than six inches are not allowed, nor is clothing with profane or obscene language/content.

• Masks and social distancing is recommended inside the stadium.