Superbowl for Jacksonville or, "The Privileged Few" ...at the Expense of All

The Super Bowl is an orgy of a party — a giant, smothered in money, ultra exclusive party. Sadly though the hard working Jacksonville taxpayers and their employers will foot much of the bill for the Big Game. While only a privileged few will be able to actually attend. The majority of the rooms on cruise ships and in local hotels will be reserved for the nation’s rich and almost-famous. It’s interesting (some would say obscene) that the city’s Super Bowl bid came down to how luxuriously Jacksonville could cuddle, coddle and entertain the Fortune 500 CEOs who will descend on this town.

While throwing big parties is something Jacksonville does fairly well (World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party), entertaining corporate honchos is a lot more complicated than catering to a bunch of college football fans or, so I'm told. It wouldn't surprise this editor to see many things occur that ordinary local citizens would get busted for.

Now, the city will go to great expense to create a "floating hotel district". (The idea of a flotilla of double-wides, while more in keeping with the city’s "heritage", was apparently vetoed.) If the Super Bowl preparations simply entailed lining up a bunch of cruise ships in the river, there wouldn’t be much concern at all. Unfortunately, its being said that planning for the big weekend will be much more elaborate. In other words, cost Big Bux....hide your pocketbooks.

To start, Jaguars officials say 6-year-old Alltel Stadium needs $20 million in renovations to be made “Super Bowl ready.” At least that’s the line they fed the public prior to the Super Bowl bid. The Florida Times-Union reported that Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver told his NFL brethren in Atlanta that awarding the Big Game to Jacksonville would help him leverage $40 - $50 million in improvements to the stadium. That’s a significant gap. Mayor Delaney "pledges" the city won’t pay for any of it, but does the City Council has the willpower to keep such a promise in the face of Super Bowl mania?

Of course, Alltel isn’t the only downtown structure that will demand attention prior to February 2005. Some of those floating hotels will be docked off the coast of Talleyrand. That’s right, Talleyrand — the industrialized district best known as the site of a spectacular 1993 fuel tank farm fire. Talleyrand, I’ve heard, will have to be rehabbed for the big weekend, along with much of the rest of the city’s waterfront. Mo.. Big Bux

While public expenses will certainly mount, businesses large and small will be called on to dip into their cash reserves to help the city “offset” the cost of staging the Big Game. Mayor Delaney insists the Super Bowl will pay for itself, but, again, he's not too convincing. The Super Bowl will cost taxpayers and business owners tens of millions of dollars in advance — money the city hopes to recoup in a single week of activity. While promoters say the Super Bowl could pour $300 million dollars into the local economy (some of which will be gobbled up by out-of-town cruise ship operators), studies show it will cost locals nearly as much to prepare for the event. In other words, the financial impact of a Super Bowl on the host city could turn out to be a wash. Big party, decent publicity, but no Big Bux Returns.

The recent SuperBowl for Jacksonville announcement will likely be the high point of the city’s Super Bowl quest until the game itself arrives in 2005. Elected officials (Delaney will be long gone) will be under constant pressure from game organizers to devote more money and resources to Super Bowl preparations. Residents, too, will eventually chafe at the constant demands made by the city’s "self-appointed" Super Bowl hierarchy. They’ll be told time and again that it’s a small price to pay for the “privilege” of hosting the Big Game — though I and many of our readers not entirely convinced.

Why does it all feel like one big hustle?