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Now What?

By Timothy J. Gibbons
Published by Florida Times-Union on February 7, 2005.

The Super Bowl is history, the crowds are dispersing and the cruise ships are sailing away, leaving Jacksonville with one question: NOW WHAT?


While most of the attention of the crowd at Veterans Memorial Arena last week was focused on the mascots prancing around stage and the coaches being interviewed, Mayor John Peyton was deep in conversation with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft

The topic: the opportunity for Kraft to ship more product through the Jacksonville ports.

In the midst of the official kickoff to the Super Bowl, Peyton's conversation with the team owner -- who also owns International Forest Products, which ships some products through Jacksonville -- stood out as the type of thing that many hope will be the real value of last week's festivities.

"This is a great opportunity for Jacksonville to tell a great story," the mayor said during the kick-off celebration. "This exposure allows us to begin the cultivation process."

In Kraft's case, that cultivation began when he leaned over to Peyton and said he liked the city and wanted to do more business here, said Susie Wiles, the mayor's spokeswoman. Peyton ended up putting Kraft in touch with port officials who arranged a tour of the facilities.

City leaders have been hoping for that sort of interest since Jacksonville was awarded the Super Bowl in 2000.

For politicians, business leaders and city boosters, the Super Bowl was to be the wellspring of a dream: That after a week in which the world's attention is focused on the First Coast, Jacksonville will be able to jump to a higher level, will see an increased number of tourists, conventions, business relocations and general economic growth, will be a place that people want to come to even when there's not a big game going on at Alltel Stadium.

While some experts have doubts about whether one football game -- even one the size of the Super Bowl -- can have a long-term impact, those dreams have persisted. Now that the confetti has been cleared away, the cruise ships headed down the river and the Vince Lombardi Trophy shipped back north, it's time to see if they will come true.

SPRUCING THINGS UP

Since 2000, city officials and business leaders have held up the Super Bowl as Jacksonville's shining moment, one that would propel the city to bigger and better things.

"This is great news," then-Sheriff Nat Glover said the day Jacksonville found out it was getting the game. "Jacksonville continues its bid to become a major city."

From the push to finish as many Better Jacksonville projects as possible, to the creation of a new slogan for the area, to the sprucing up of downtown office buildings, the motivation has been to best position the city for the future, making the area the sort of place that people are excited to move to, and to move their businesses to.

"There are certain cities that I call cachet cities. Places like Charlotte, Seattle, Phoenix and Portland that are viewed as up-and-comers," former Mayor John Delaney said more than a year ago. "I think that's what the Super Bowl could formally do for Jacksonville, make us a cachet city. There's been a huge psyche change for the better in the last decade. This city feels dramatically different about itself now. I feel the Super Bowl is going to make the whole country look at us in that way, too."

As well as hoping the exposure turns into long-term benefits, those responsible for helping the growth have also been working, mostly behind the scenes. Last week, in particular, everyone from the Jacksonville Port Authority to the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce to the Convention and Visitor's Bureau did their best to show the city in its best light.

"We're going to take an opportunity, with Jacksonville looking its best, to show it off," said David Kaufman, senior director for government relations with the port authority. "It will be a great opportunity to show what we can offer."

For the port, that included connecting with the executives of companies that might ship cargo who were in town for the game as well as touting the offerings of the entire region to cruise ship companies.

"We will show them our facilities," Kaufman said about the cruise companies, "but we're going to spend an equal amount of time on the city and region, showing what it can offer. What they want to know is 'When I sell a cruise to someone from Omaha, Neb., what can I tell them about Jacksonville?' "

Private companies as well as business resource groups like the Chamber of Commerce are following the same course, using the Super Bowl as an opportunity to forge personal relationships with potential customers and companies interested in the area.

The Jacksonville and the Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau, for example, held a contest for meeting planners, giving away a Super Bowl ticket to a meeting planner who submitted a qualified request for information about holding a convention in Jacksonville. One hundred planners entered.

"We're getting directly involved with people," said Jennifer MacPhee, director of communications for the bureau.

The bureau also brought in a number of meeting planners who might be interested in bringing business to the area, giving them a first-hand look of what the city can do. "What better way to get a feel for the city than to be here and see us at the peak of excitement and see how we handle this massive amount of crowds and visitors and tourists?" MacPhee said.

FOLLOW THOSE LEADS

Of course, that process doesn't end when the game does. The next step is turning all those personal relationships, sales leads and information requests into actual economic activity.

Cornerstone, the economic development arm of the chamber, will target 300 companies with a "Passport to Jacksonville" -- complete with leather case -- that will tout everything from the Jacksonville Museum of Modern Art to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm.

Along with the convention bureau, Cornerstone will also run a full-page advertisement in today's edition of USA Today and will hand out thank-you notes to department executives. The organizations also will run several months of ads related to the Super Bowl, touting the vision they say the National Football League displayed in choosing the city.

"We're trying to capture the knowledge that most everybody knows and saw where the Super Bowl was," said Jerry Mallot, executive director of Cornerstone, the chamber's economic development arm. "It will make them interested in and comfortable with Jacksonville."

Such follow-up is the key to success, said Ken Krizner, managing editor of Expansion Management magazine, a publication targeted at companies that are looking to expand operations or move to new cities.

"You can't give up on these people," Krizner said. "You don't want to let too much time go by. By the end of next week, at least, you have to follow up. When something big is happening you have all this building up -- this is probably the biggest week in Jacksonville history -- and then there's a letdown. You can't let that break the line of communication."

The city also has to focus on other issues, some city leaders said, a task which might be easier now that the hoopla surrounding the Super Bowl has passed. "We should have a very substantial objective in mind as a community as we did to get the team [the Jaguars] and get the Super Bowl," said Mike Weinstein, who was part of the team responsible for drafting the winning bid for the big game. "I'd like to see it focus more internally on education and race relations. We can be the best community in the country if we turn our focus inside for awhile."

NOT A SURE THING

Of course, no matter how successful the game, the relationship building or the follow-up is, a long-term economic impact is not assured. Jacksonville is a growing city to begin with, and if a company relocates here in the next few years, it's open for argument if that's because the city hosted the Super Bowl.

"Any long-term effects get drowned in general growth," said Philip Porter, director of the Center for Economic Policy Analysis of the University of South Florida. "One of the hypes is 'look at the future growth -- people are seeing we have this wonderful place and they'll choose to move here.' I think that that's probably an overblown expectation."

While Jacksonville did have more attention focused on it last week than ever before in its history, that attention doesn't always benefit the Super Bowl city, Porter said. When Miami hosted the Super Bowl in 1999, for example, a lot of time was spent talking about the riots in that city 10 years before.

"If you look around at the press you get, two out of three mentions are favorable and one is negative," he said. "You get exposure, but you expose your warts as well as your beauty marks."

Even if people do get a positive impression of the city, Porter said, businesses and people don't relocate because of good feelings but because of low tax burdens and good schools: Every dollar of tax money that goes toward Super Bowl events rather than tax cuts or education, the professor said, ends up not helping.

"It's a wonderful party," said Porter, who has been in Tampa for the Super Bowls held there. "I hope Jacksonville throws as nice of a party as they can. I guess what gets me is politicians are not able to be honest. They can't say, 'We take taxpayer money and throw a hell of a party.' "

But in Jacksonville's case, Mallot said, the city has had to overcome a lack of name recognition, a problem that places like Miami, New Orleans and Houston haven't had to deal with. While companies aren't likely to pick a new headquarters city just because the place threw a good party, the exposure from that party might help Jacksonville's chances.

"A product that you see advertised a lot is a product that you feel familiar and comfortable with," the Cornerstone director said. "The Super Bowl is like an enormous multi-week process of advertising Jacksonville across the country and, during the game itself, across the world."

The impact won't be felt immediately, but after the Super Bowl, more expanding companies should at least put Jacksonville on their consideration list, which will eventually translate into more moves. That won't come immediately, Mallot said: More companies will consider the area over the next year or two, with an increase in relocations showing up in 2007 or 2008.

"If you don't get on the list, you never have a chance," he said. "We still have to go through all the same things for consideration, and we still have a great business climate, great transportation system and incentives. But before, we never even got a chance to compete."

POTENTIAL FOR GROWTH

Once Jacksonville is given that chance to compete, civic leaders hope that the city will see the same sort of explosion that Tampa experienced in the years after it hosted its first Super Bowl in 1984, whether that growth is directly attributable to the game or not.

Over the past 20 years, Tampa's downtown went from two skyscrapers to about 12, which host a much higher number of major companies. The city has also added a convention center and expanded its seaport and airport.

That is growth that came as more people became aware of the city and became aware of what it could handle, said Paul Catoe, president and chief executive officer of the Tampa Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau. Tampa has hosted two more Super Bowls since that first game.

"It was the greatest thing in the world," Catoe said. "Tampa was not anything major at that point in time and we had all these people coming in and all the stars."

The Super Bowl has particularly helped the convention business, he said: When conventions worry that Tampa is too small for an event, planners can always point to the Super Bowl.

Jacksonville can use the experience as the same sort of resume enhancer, Catoe said.

"Jacksonville will be exposed for the first time to a lot of influential people," he said. "Some will like what they see. Some might come back. Some will say 'I like this place, I want to move here or I want to bring my company here.' That's not unrealistic."

Even Porter, the South Florida economist, agrees that growth in some industries -- tourism and conventions, particularly -- might be sparked by the Super Bowl. "You can build an economy around sporting events," he said. "What you have to have for economic impact is a steady stream of activity."

And now, with the dream of the Super Bowl now having come true, such a steady stream of activity -- be it in corporate relocations, convention business or tourism activity -- is the sort of dream that city leaders hope they can now accomplish.

"We've managed to show the best of what we can offer here. We don't want to let that go," said MacPhee, the convention bureau spokeswoman. "None of us are prepared to step down. We want to do everything we can do see an impact in the future."



About

This is a showcase of the work done by Timothy J. Gibbons during a journalism career now stretching back more than a decade.

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