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Jacksonville planning committee finds model worth emulating

By ALICIA CALDWELL, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 27, 2003

SAN DIEGO -- There are a lot of things the people organizing Super Bowl XXXIX want to bring to Jacksonville in two years, but the traffic in southern California surely isn't one of them.

"It took me an hour to get here," said Wayne Weaver, owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars and honorary co-chairman of Jacksonville's Super Bowl host committee.

Weaver is among a contingent of 40 people from Jacksonville who were in San Diego last week to look closely at how the city is arranging security, running its team hotels, directing its thousands of volunteers and organizing parking.

Though the cities are similar in that they both are waterfront sites, Weaver said Jacksonville's flotilla of cruise ships that will be used as hotels would make for a tighter center of activity than in San Diego.

That would cut down on people circling around in cars, causing gridlock as they search for parking.

"Everything is going to be contained within a two-mile radius of our city," Weaver said.

Michael Kelly, president of the Jacksonville Super Bowl host committee, said he walked around San Diego's Gaslamp district Thursday night, noticing how well organizers had taken empty lots or storefronts and turned them into sponsor display areas in the Super Hub area downtown.

A planned extension of Jacksonville's Riverwalk, along with other projects, would improve the city's entertainment district, Kelly said. He also favored mimicking San Diego's concert series by holding something similar in Jacksonville's Metro Park area.

Another event Jacksonville likely will take from San Diego's playbook is the NFL Experience, pro football's interactive theme park full of football-related games and activities. Former NFL players in town for the festivities were roaming the area through the week, signing autographs and talking to fans.

"The NFL Experience is open to the public and will be very accessible," said Cathy Courson, a committee volunteer who works for a Jacksonville architecture firm. "As you know, Super Bowl tickets are very expensive and this will be a way to get everybody involved."

The NFL Experience in San Diego costs $15 for adults, while Super Bowl tickets cost hundreds if you can get them at face value, and even more when purchased as part of a package.

Jacksonville is making strides in other areas of preparation, Kelly said.

Despite previous concerns that Jacksonville had not signed up enough hotel rooms, 13,000 are under contract and negotiations were continuing to lock in 3,000-4,000 cruise ship rooms, said Kelly, who also organized Tampa's Super Bowl in 2001 and the NCAA Final Four in St. Petersburg in 1999.

Kelly said he expects to lock in the cruise ship rooms in the next 30 to 60 days.

Having the cruise ships as floating hotels would cut down on traffic, said Heather Surface, spokeswoman for the Jacksonville committee.

"We're the smallest city to ever host a Super Bowl and it's a first-time event for us," she said.

Weaver, the Jaguars owner, said he would like to see Jacksonville establish itself as a viable option in the Super Bowl rotation, like Tampa and Miami.

"I think it's going to depend on how well we pull it off," he said.

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