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Hotels buckle up for Super Bowl blitz


© St. Petersburg Times, published January 27, 2001

Each year, Lawrence Morrison comes down from his hometown of Hollis, N.H., to roam around sunny Florida with his wife.

But this month, the couple were unable to stay at the Sandpiper Resort in St. Petersburg as they usually do.

"This year? Forget about it!" huffed Morrison on Friday afternoon as he unloaded his suitcases in front of the Hampton Inn in Ridge Manor West. "Not with the Super Bowl."

Local hotel managers reported having few if any rooms available over the weekend, thanks to football festivities. Some fans booked rooms in Hernando County, knowing those farther south would be full or too expensive. Other customers, like Morrison, had no interest in the big game but were pushed north anyway.

"We're booked solid," said Lucy Morilla, front desk clerk at the Comfort Inn in Weeki Wachee. "We've been getting a lot of calls, but I tell them, "All we have left is a couch (in the lobby).' "

Despite having few or no vacancies, the parking lots of many hotels remained barren Friday. Hotel officials said they were bracing for most people to start showing up today. Some customers will have to pay especially high rates for this weekend.

Deidre Fletcher, manager of the Days Inn at Interstate 75 and State Road 50, said employees are keeping their eyes peeled for celebrities. A company called Dee>Art Enterprises, which is handling some of the entertainment for the Super Bowl, has reserved 20 rooms at the hotel. The Temptations and the Drifters are expected to arrive there today.

Fletcher said the most unusual thing at her hotel as of Friday was a large black van with women in bikinis airbrushed on the side.

"You name it, we've got it," she said.

More routine sights, she added, are customers and cars decked in football colors and coolers full of alcohol.

"We've got some partiers. I've seen a lot of beer go in those rooms," she chuckled. "But you're going to have that with the Super Bowl. I think we're going to have a lot of fun."

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