Tampa looks to borrow game plan from Miami

Published February 3, 2007

MIAMI - The Super Bowl isn't coming to Tampa until 2009, but planning for the big game is already under way.

A team of Tampa tourism officials and Super Bowl host committee members traveled to Miami this week to see how that city handles hosting the much-celebrated sporting event.

They're looking for ideas to emulate and planning pitfalls.

One they may emulate: Super Bowl banners hanging on buildings still under construction and Super Bowl windscreens surrounding construction sites. Near downtown, a cube-shaped, lighted Super Bowl sign dangled from one crane.

"That may be something we can take from this experience," said Tampa Bay sports commissioner Rob Higgins.

Norwood Smith, vice president of sales for the Tampa Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau, marveled at Miami's ability to accommodate events for 1,000 to 5,000 people.

"The multitude of venues they have in South Florida makes me sick," Smith said. "They have such an array to pull from."

Tampa will have to be more creative to find locations for special events, such as opening ceremonies, media parties and the host committee sponsor party, said Susan Williams, director of special events for the bureau.

As Williams and Smith sat on couches in the Tampa bureau's booth at the Super Bowl media center, they brainstormed options: perhaps tents at Curtis Hixon Park or built out from the planned Riverwalk. By 2009, they mused, Tampa should also have a new art museum, Children's Museum and history museum, which could be ideal locations for special events.

In Miami, a section of Ocean Drive, the main drag on South Beach, was closed to car traffic, and partiers walked up and down the street while CBS and ESPN broadcast live shows.

Maybe something similar could be done in Ybor City, Williams ventured.

One Tampa Bay area advantage: Super Bowl events will be closer together than those in Miami. The three-county South Florida effort has parties scheduled from Fort Lauderdale to Miami beaches, requiring long drives. When Tampa hosts the Super Bowl, events will be concentrated in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

"We have a great opportunity to have unique functions within close proximity," said Terri Parnell, national sports manager for the Tampa bureau.

Tampa has hosted three Super Bowls already, but every year new events are planned and expectations change.

This year, the NFL and Pepsi sponsored a concert with Fergie, Ludacris, Kanye West and John Legend outside the stadium. It will be broadcast tonight on VH1. Tampa may have to plan for something similar, said Paul Catoe, who heads Tampa's visitors bureau.

Tampa Sports Authority chairman Mark Proctor and Curtis Stokes, president of the Hillsborough chapter of the NAACP and a Super Bowl host committee member, said finding their way to the concert from the stadium parking and through the NFL Experience, a football-themed carnival outside the stadium, was difficult.

Volunteers assigned to the event seemed to have no idea what was going on, Stokes said.

Dottie Berger MacKinnon, who will organize volunteers in Tampa, said she had heard complaints about the caliber of the Miami volunteers.

"We've got to make sure the volunteers are educated and know where all the venues are," MacKinnon said. "If you don't have the answers, find someone who does. Cell phones are great for that."

Tampa tourism officials and organizers of the 2008 Super Bowl in Arizona and the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver met Thursday with Tony Vitrano, president of Gameday International, an Orlando company that handles transportation planning for major sporting events.

"Transportation makes or breaks," said the Tampa bureau's Smith. "That's where you get the most complaints."

Gameday marshaled 500 buses from throughout the state to transport football players, reporters, sponsors and VIPs from hotels to events throughout the Miami area this week. Gameday works with local government transportation engineers to evaluate typical traffic flows and determine the best routes for buses.

"It doesn't have to be a nightmare for even one day if you plan properly," Vitrano told the group.

Already, Tampa Super Bowl planners are collecting a schedule of road improvements slated for the area to make sure none interfere with the Super Bowl.

"Last thing you want them to do is tear up Himes Avenue a month before the Super Bowl," said Leonard Levy, a member of Tampa's host committee.

Henry Saavedra, executive director of the Tampa Sports Authority, expressed no worries.

Miami has done great, he said. "It's almost as good as Tampa."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or 813 226-3401.