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Super Bowl Preparation Continues

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BRICK BY BRICK

Plans have been made, but is city really ready for the big event?

By MATT GALNOR

The Times-Union

The palm trees are now hovering over Bay Street.

Dirt is finally turning at The Shipyards property.

Downtown bridges are freshly painted, and lights are hung on two of the three to be glowing by the end of the year.

Yet Jacksonville's sleepy downtown still doesn't look much different than its normal 9-to-5, Monday through Friday self, let alone a place 100,000 revellers will call home 10 weekends from now for Super Bowl XXXIX.

So, go ahead, ask the people in charge.

City, local Super Bowl and National Football League officials have heard the question for years now, and it won't be going away before the eyes of the world converge on Alltel Stadium on Feb. 6.

Is Jacksonville ready to host one of the world's biggest sporting events -- and the days of concerts, parties and excess that go along with it?

Unequivocally, officials say, yes.

Others with a stake in the game are trying to share and exude the same confidence.

"This isn't a show at the Florida Theatre. It's massive, it's international," said Ginger Readion, who lived in New Orleans, the ultimate Super Bowl host city, and is one of the owners of the London Bridge Pub downtown.

"Jacksonville is a town that always pulls it together at the last minute and seems to put on a good show," said Mark Jackson, owner of the Amsterdam Sky Cafe near the Sports Complex.

Jackson's place will be packed and he hopes plans to move people around the city are successful.

"There's certainly a bit of nervousness going on as the event gets closer," said City Council Vice President Kevin Hyde, "but that doesn't mean plans aren't in place."

The three-mile street party, billed as the Times-Union SuperFest, will stretch along Bay Street, cross the St. Johns River at the Main Street bridge and include the Southbank.

Both sides of the river will be lined with live music and vendors.

The temporary stages and tents for the SuperFest, as well as temporary kitchens and facilities needed for the NFL Tailgate Party and the Corporate Hospitality Village -- two events closed to everyone without a game ticket -- are just that: Temporary, meaning there's no need to panic if work hasn't begun.

Work won't ramp up until January but, when it does, it'll be tough to miss.

Trucks hauling stages, lighting and sound systems for the four major concert areas will clutter downtown streets.

Hundreds of vendors from southern Georgia down to Daytona Beach will set up shop -- some hawking beer and its greasy brethren partiers will seek out for late night snacks, others peddling anything they can slap a Super Bowl logo on.

"Our job is, first, to have it all ready and, second, to let people know what's going to hit them," said Jim Steeg, the NFL's senior vice president of special events.

Ahead of schedule?

The NFL has worked to make absolutely sure Jacksonville is on schedule, if not ahead of schedule, Steeg said.

Super Bowl-related events are slated for locations from Alltel Stadium downtown to the Equestrian Center on the Westside.

JON M. FLETCHER/The Times-Union

This first-time host, and the smallest host city, has received plenty of extra attention from league executives.

League officials have been in and out of Jacksonville countless times in the past few years, making weekly visits this year, Steeg said. That doesn't include the event sponsors, corporate party planners and television executives who've been into town scouting venues for private events and outdoor studio locations for live broadcasts.

"They can't just dust off their plan like they can in New Orleans or Tampa when they've been there before," said Michael Kelly, president of the Jacksonville Super Bowl Host Committee.

The first hurdle was finding the hotel space the city sorely lacks for an event of this magnitude.

To counter that deficiency, Jacksonville is contracting with five cruise ships that'll be floating hotels and entertainment venues.

The ships themselves add further preparation, including a 30,000-square-foot temporary cruise terminal the Jacksonville Port Authority will build in mid-to-late January. The host committee will pick up the approximately $200,000 tab.

Four of the five ships will dock off Talleyrand Avenue, a gritty industrial corridor that Mayor John Peyton has publicly fretted about.

The city is repaving the street, fixing cracked sidewalks and adding landscaping, but the private businesses that line the street are out of the city's control. Peyton's office is considering asking the businesses to hang banners welcoming guests to Jacksonville, looking to spruce up the area in any way possible, said Susie Wiles, a top Peyton aide.

"You always want to put your best foot forward, and we're going to do that, recognizing some parts of our community are more beautiful than others," Wiles said.

Moving people around

Cruise ship guests will have to get downtown somehow, and most will be shuttled by Jacksonville Transportation Authority buses. The JTA is bringing in 40 more buses to add to its 130-bus fleet, spokesman Mike Miller said.

There will be six shuttle sites set up, similar to the plan for Jaguars home games, and Miller said the agency is trying to cover some of its costs by selling naming rights to facilities.

Some items for sale include signage on two sides atop the Kings Avenue Parking Garage, visible from Interstate 95. Miller said JTA is hoping to net between $50,000 and $75,000 for garage advertising rights and lure smaller amounts for the six lots across Jacksonville.

Transportation is the biggest fear for Hyde, who heads a council committee on the Super Bowl.

Hyde was reminded last week by city staff that no Super Bowl city ever has enough cabs. Jacksonville will be relying more than most on out-of-town fleets but the city motor vehicle division hasn't seen the number of permit applications it expected.

The fear now is everyone will apply at the last minute, creating a crunch the department cannot handle, Hyde said. The council is meeting with limousine services and cab companies, along with city regulators, to avoid any disasters.

All vehicles for hire will need city medallions to pick visitors up at Jacksonville International Airport, which will be among the most scrutinized public operation.

It's now a month and counting since JIA merged its three security checkpoints into one central location. Airport officials are scrutinizing how the system performs during the holiday weekend, what officials call the biggest dress rehearsal imaginable prior to the big game.

The airport will also open a separate check-in site just for Super Bowl week, particularly to handle to onslaught of guests flying out the day after the game, said Michael Stewart, JIA's director of external affairs.

Major corridors into downtown -- from the north near JIA and in from the smaller satellite airports the smaller, private planes will fly into -- will get sprucing as well, Wiles said.

A citywide volunteer trash clean-up will be held in late January and the city will hire contractors to mow the grass in rights of way and medians.

City crews will work overtime and contractors will also be brought in the middle of the night to wipe downtown clean of last night's party to make way for the next day's events.

The major downtown work includes putting a layer of asphalt on the former JEA Southside Generating Station site to make way for the NFL Experience, a family-oriented, football-themed extravaganza.

More blacktop will be needed for about seven or eight acres on The Shipyards property, which will be used as a transportation hub, and one of the stages for SuperFest.

Jacksonville will plant rye grass on the the four-block site of the planned Duval County Courthouse so the land can be used either for parking or a staging area for vendors or vehicles for hire.

Getting residents ready

Host committee officials have been getting ready for almost five years now.

Now, Peyton and others are trying to get the regular citizens, the 1.2 million people who call Northeast Florida home, ready for what will happen to their town during Super Bowl.

"Once it's all said and done, people are going to be standing there with their mouths open saying, 'Oh my God. What was that?'," said Readion, one of the owners of the London Bridge Pub downtown.

Peyton has been hitting the local media and speakers' circuit hard, and will continue to do so, trying to set people's expectations for the week.

He'll hold four town meetings next month to explain why Jacksonville is ready for this monstrous event, what people should expect and why he feels the week is so important for Jacksonville.

The city's public face will be the 9,300 volunteers who'll greet visitors at the airport, usher people through lines at the NFL Experience and pitch in on the five cruise ship hotels. They've been training since September and are starting to get their schedules of where and when they'll be stationed during Super Bowl week.

Each location -- from the NFL Experience to the cruise ships to bus detail -- has its own mandatory training session.

About 100 people settled into a Northside auditorium this month to learn about volunteering at the SuperFest. The most important thing is to smile, be friendly and know where to find the answers -- no matter the question, said Soulan Johnson, director of volunteer service for the host committee.

"Their questions could cover the gamut since they'll be drinking," Johnson said, "so you have to be sensitive of their mind, body and soul."

After Johnson finished her presentation, she prepared to show a video on Houston's experience hosting last year's Super Bowl. Anyone who'd already seen it was allowed to leave and more than half the room headed out to their cars.

Among them was Victor Blackwell, who is volunteering at four places Super Bowl week. The post office supervisor in Amelia Island made arrangements years ago to take the week off so he could volunteer.

Blackwell, a Jaguars season ticket holder, said the Super Bowl will be the experience of a lifetime and he didn't want to miss out on any of the action.

That's the attitude Kelly, the host committee president, hopes area residents take for the week.

Sure, there's going to be traffic.

Your favorite restaurant will be packed and may even be closed to host a private party.

But get out and take in some of the excitement while the city is dressed to kill for the cameras.

"It's not something to be scared of," Kelly said. "We shouldn't be too serious that we lose sight of the fact this is something we need to have fun with."

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Sorry for the long post - I guess I shouldn't have posted the whole article!

Did anyone catch the part about JTA selling ad space on the Kings Av. Garage???

So, we can put ads on Buses and Parking garages, but not on the Skyway?

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Sorry, it seems we posted this article around the same time. I noticed the part about selling ad space on the Kings Ave. garage. Hopefully, its not too late to sell ad space on the Skyway as well.

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