It’s now under a thousand days before the Super Bowl is played here in Jacksonville. There’s a little bit of anticipation about the game, but any real enthusiasm has been kept pretty well under wraps. I’ve covered the game since the early ‘80’s and have seen successful host cities, and not so successful host cities. In fact, San Diego, the site of this year’s game, qualifies in both categories.
When they first held the game there in ’88, it was a scary place to be. Dangerous downtown, terrible traffic, not much nightlife unless you were invited to one of the NFL or their clients premier parties. When the game returned ten years later, San Diego had completely changed. Great downtown hotels, a gaslight district with restaurants and nightlife, a light rail system and a vibrant feel about a city by the water.
In these next thousand days, the charge for Jacksonville’s Super Bowl organizers is to be San Diego the second time around. To transform our downtown from a scary place to be, to an inviting area where people will be entertained and feel safe. Forget comparisons to Miami and Tampa and New Orleans. They’ve got meeting space and convention centers and are destinations year-round. San Diego is where Jacksonville should look. They figured out their problems and fixed them before the game returned.
The promise of the organizing committee to the NFL was that the celebration would be centered on a 2-mile radius near the stadium. You might think that can’t be done. But I’ve seen it at other major events and it can happen here. Boarded up storefronts become temporary souvenir shops and casual beer drinking establishments. Giant tents can be erected, inviting all kinds of vendors to be a part of the Super Bowl experience. Public transportation should be the major focus for getting people from out of town, all over our town. The next Mayor of Jacksonville should try and keep politics out of the Super Bow decision-making and fulfill his role as “best friend of the city.” That’s the only way it’ll work.