JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- After more than four years of
planning, Jacksonville is ready for its time on the Super Bowl
Owners of temporary stores are loading shelves for a one-week
sales season, security is getting tighter and the football world's
eyes are beginning to focus on the River City -- which, despite its
relative lack of status compared to some of the nation's popular
tourist destinations, welcomes the challenge of hosting the NFL's
The finishing touches for the transformation of Jacksonville's
downtown are going on in earnest, with workers planting flowers,
paving streets and setting up temporary cell phone towers -- all
with the hope of better accommodating the estimated 100,000
visitors who'll flood the city this week for the Super Bowl.
Palm trees have been planted and concrete sidewalks have been
replaced by brick. Television lights and towers have been erected
atop a parking garage, TV networks are beginning to set up their
expansive camps and colorful fiberglass manatees are spaced through the
And on Sunday, the real stars -- the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles -- arrive to begin their final preparations for the Feb. 6 game.
Let the party begin.
"I'm glad it's finally here, but it's a big mystery dealing
with all the unknowns," said Vince O'Rourke, who owns Eclate, a
downtown restaurant and lounge.
Jacksonville has never before hosted a Super Bowl, and for many
the process has been of the learn-as-you-go variety. O'Rourke said
the game is causing him big logistical problems as far as supplies
and staffing -- he simply doesn't know how much to order and how
many people to hire.
Betty Turner operates a jewelry store, and she, too, has
concerns -- like how diverted traffic will affect her sales. A
street festival will go on outside her downtown storefront, and
she's not sure how she'll get to work or where she -- or her
prospective customers -- will park.
"I am praying very hard that the Super Bowl will give us the
bump to keep going," Turner said.
Organizers insist that everyone involved can relax, and that
everything leading up to next Sunday will go as planned.
It may be the first Super Bowl for the city and most of its
10,000 volunteers, but it's not the first for many of the key
organizers -- including Michael Kelly, who heads the Super Bowl Host
Committee after serving in a similar capacity for Tampa's Super
Bowl in 2001.
Kelly knows the city wasn't a popular choice to host this game,
yet he believes Jacksonville, which submitted its bid application
back in 2000, will prove critics wrong.
"There is a lot of anticipation," Kelly said. "We are ready
to get the party started."
Added host committee spokeswoman Heather Surface: "A well-oiled
machine is an excellent way to describe it."
Plans seem to be moving along smoothly as the city prepares for
the hordes of Eagles and Patriots fans, the arrival of five cruise
ships that will serve as temporary floating hotels, plus corporate
bigwigs and a virtual army of public relations folks pushing
everything from the Sharpie ink pens to rapper Snoop Dogg.
Organizers say the game will result in a direct economic impact
of $300 million or more for Jacksonville, the nation's largest city
in terms of mass (841 square miles) but one that doesn't even rank
among the nation's top 50 television markets.
And there are plenty of people hoping to cash in. Among them:
Former NFL running back Ben Malone, who played for the Miami Dolphins
from 1973-78. He'll operate a temporary storefront called "Major
T's," which will be stacked with Super Bowl shirts, jackets
($300), shot glasses ($8) and other memorabilia.
Every year the Malone family, from Tempe, Ariz., heads for the
Super Bowl to operate a similar shop.
"We heard this was where there was going to be a big block
party," said Malone's son, Ben.
Down the block, Mike Ranne, a building manager, was overseeing
the completion of a coffee shop, which will be run by the
Jacksonville chapter of National Association for the Mentally Ill --
of which he's the local president.
"The Super Bowl has been good for downtown, he said, "People
are doing what they've put off doing for years, even if they are
doing it in one week."