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Little room at the inns for fans
By EDIE GROSS
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 16, 2001
A day after watching their teams catapult into Super Bowl XXXV, Ravens and Giants fans scrambled Monday to find some of the few hotel rooms left in Pinellas County.
Though Pinellas boasts 35,000 hotel rooms, county tourism officials estimated that fewer than 1,000 vacancies remained for Super Bowl week.
"We're completely full, and the phone's rung 50 times today," said Dave Kelly, owner of the Bayboro House Bed and Breakfast in St. Petersburg. "We just filled our last two rooms this morning. It wasn't a problem."
For the most part, hotels in Tampa and large resorts on both sides of the bay were booked months ago by media and NFL officials who were Super Bowl-bound no matter who ended up on the gridiron.
Mid size hotels and mom-and-pop bed and breakfasts in Pinellas County began to see more action last week, when the field of teams narrowed to four.
"Things went crazy," said Claudia Huber, sales director at the Holiday Inn SunSpree Resort on Clearwater Beach. "We could've sold rooms 100 times over. We're all fat and sassy."
Even members of one of the hottest boy bands in the country had a hard time finding a place to rest their heads.
"We had the Backstreet Boys call us looking for a place to stay -- well, their travel agent called," said Wit Tuttell, spokesman for the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. "It's not just Joe Schmo."
The bureau has tried to keep track of how many rooms are available in Pinellas County, but that number was a moving target Monday as many Raiders and Vikings fans canceled their reservations while Ravens and Giants devotees snapped them up again. The bureau can be reached at 464-7200.
Tuttell said the county still had between 500 and 1,000 hotel rooms available. Most hotels require a three- or four-night minimum stay, and they are charging their "rack rate" -- the highest amount a hotel can legally collect for a room, and the rate usually reserved for those few occasions when they can command top dollar.
That usually means a 30 percent to 60 percent increase over what hotels usually charge this time of year. The hike hasn't bothered football fans.
"We've been booked since '99 for these days," said Maria Schildkamp, owner of the Sheraton Four Points hotel in Tarpon Springs, where a room during the Super Bowl goes for $140 a night, 40 percent more than usual. "It's going to be crazy."
Guests of the Renaissance Vinoy Resort in St. Petersburg are paying in the "upper 400s" for a room, said public relations director Krista Boling.
"We are at maximum capacity with a nice waiting list as well," Boling said.
Private homes and apartments are attracting fans as well. The phones at ReservationsDirect Inc. in Dunedin, which lists properties for rent during the Super Bowl, rang until midnight Sunday and started again about 7 a.m. Monday. The company's Web site is www.reservationsdirect.com. The telephone number is 738-1737.
Those properties range in price from $800 a week to $55,000 a week, said sales director Jason Rosenthal.
"I am going wacky here," he said Monday afternoon. "People are calling from all over the country, e-mailing. It's getting kind of wild. But that was the intent." All 14 rooms at the All Suite Motel on St. Pete Beach were booked last week until one registered guest died of a heart attack before arriving. Owner John Johanson did not expect the vacancy to last long.
"So is the cycle of life," said Johanson, who said he hoped the Super Bowl fans would become regular vacationers. "Once they see our place, they'll be back."
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