JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Six years ago, the NFL helped put Jacksonville on the map. Four years from now, the Super Bowl will give this once-sleepy city the chance of a lifetime.
The city of about 1.1 million, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars, will play host to the 2005 Super Bowl. This week, 18 members of Jacksonville’s Super Bowl host committee are in Tampa learning how that city makes its big game work.
“It’s the most important thing we’ll do this year, as far as planning for our game,” said Mike Weinstein, executive director of the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission.
Jacksonville’s challenge will be unique. The city used its relatively small size, even its lack of hotel space, as the selling point for its bid.
About 11,000 of the 30,000 hotel rooms needed for the Super Bowl will come from cruise ships docked downtown on the St. Johns River. It’s the first time that idea will be used so extensively at a Super Bowl. The cruise ship rooms will be snug, but Weinstein says “people don’t spend much time in their hotel room during Super Bowl week, anyway.”
The river, along with Jacksonville’s downtown skyline, dotted by skyscrapers erected in the 1960s and ’70s to support a burgeoning insurance industry, will get more TV air time during the single week before the 2005 Super Bowl than ever before.
It will clearly be a chance for this port city to shine, and maybe erase some of the unflattering stereotypes – backwater, major league wannabe, high crime – that burdened it in decades past.
“This city suffered from something of an inferiority complex for a long time,” said Lad Daniels, a city councilman. “People in our own area looked at it as something of a redneck town from south Georgia. Now, we view it as a new, northeast Florida city. The NFL and the Super Bowl had a lot to do with that.”
The biggest question is how the city with a relatively small infrastructure and modestly sized downtown will pull off the biggest party in American sports.
The cruise ships are the key. Up to 12 luxury liners will be docked downtown, with their big showrooms, abundant buffet lines and ability to provide 24-hour entertainment.
They’ll all be within a few miles of Alltel Stadium, which will receive about $40 million in upgrades for the game, half of which will come from the pockets of Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver.
Jacksonville will have a Super Bowl in which most everything – hotels, parties, the game itself – will be within walking distance.
“That will be something no other Super Bowl has done,” Weaver said.
Three cruise ships will be docked in Tampa, and members of Jacksonville’s Super Bowl committee are taking a long look at how those work.
They’re also looking at how the city works with the NFL, what changes Tampa has made in the past decade – this is the city’s third Super Bowl – and how the airport handles the extra flights being scheduled to accommodate more than 100,000 visitors. As part of its agreement with the NFL, Jacksonville got guarantees from several airlines for increased flights into town during Super Bowl week.
What the organizers in Jacksonville can’t do in Tampa, however, is duplicate a city of this size. This will be the smallest metro area to hold a Super Bowl, a point repeatedly driven home by Miami in its competing bid for the 2005 game.
“They’ll do a good job, but it’s not the best place,” Dolphins president Eddie Jones said after Miami lost the bid. “This particular choice should have been clear. But we wish them well.”
This changing, growing city owes a lot to the NFL, and it wants to make sure the NFL doesn’t leave here in 2005 with any regrets.
“I say this humbly, but I think the Jaguars have had a major impact on this city’s reputation nationally, and how the city feels about itself,” Weaver said. “And I honestly tell anyone who will listen that the Super Bowl could have an even bigger impact.”