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Riverfront to be featured


The pictures will appear daily in newspapers and on television around the world. They will be pictures of fireworks reflecting off the St. Johns River, fans bathed in sunshine as they stroll along the river, lighted bridges giving Jacksonville's downtown an intimate charm.

All of this is at the heart of the "visuals" that will be so important to Jacksonville's lasting gain from hosting Super Bowl XXXIX, and the river we seem to have always taken for granted will be the centerpiece. Finally, the potential that is the banks of the St. Johns River may be realized, and if it is, it'll be next year's Super Bowl that forces the discovery.

"We've got to make do with what we've got. What we're doing along the riverfront is spectacular. The river is what makes the visuals coming out of Jacksonville very special," Super Bowl Host Committee President Michael Kelly said.

One of the goals of the Houston effort was to revitalize its downtown. A "Main Event" area was created, where a temporary entertainment district produced a street-fest atmosphere. The effort was successful, but it was clearly manufactured and artificial. Houston offered all of the services to accommodate its crunch of visitors, but struggled to create a hub. In contrast, Jacksonville's riverfront is a natural.

"We will do the same thing along our riverfront," Kelly said of providing an entertainment district along the St. Johns.

Is this the boost downtown Jacksonville has seemingly always needed? Will this be Jacksonville's greatest gain from having hosted the Super Bowl?

The answers to those questions, of course, will come with time, which is the same with all of the projected windfalls Jacksonville will experience from hosting the big game. "It'll be the best weekend of business we've ever seen," Kelly said, "but the measurable results will be seen long-term."

Already, preparations for hosting the Super Bowl have resulted in major renovations to Alltel Stadium. The NFL assisted in the funding of those improvements.

Then there's the estimated $300 million that will make its way into the Jacksonville economy during the week of the game, and the other tangible improvements that were created by the need to improve the region's infrastructure and overall appearance. We have a new baseball park, a new indoor sports arena.

The overall gain from hosting the Super Bowl falls into three categories: economics, marketing and community pride.

"We know there will be 100,000 visitors descending on Jacksonville for at least four days," Kelly said, speaking for the economics factor. "It's a marketing opportunity you couldn't afford any other way. You have about 3,000 media covering the game. Once you get to the day of the game, the numbers speak for themselves. About 800 million people around the world watch that game."

The community pride factor is no less important. This town needs to feel good about itself. It desperately needs a greater sense of importance. So did Tampa and San Diego, and the city fathers there will tell you it's no coincidence they experienced the greatest surge in their cities' histories in the years immediately following their arrival on the Super Bowl scene.

Jacksonville will become only the 12th city to host a Super Bowl. Second class? Never again.

All of that is big, but it's what will happen on the riverfront that may be Super Bowl XXXIX's lasting footprint on the Jacksonville landscape.

"With what the Shipyards (development) is planning long-term, they can obviously see the potential," Kelly said of the riverfront's future beyond next February's Super Bowl.

"You'll have at least one cruise ship in the middle of it all," he added, allowing himself to return to the visuals. "You'll have mega yachts. It'll be really impressive, and you have the kind of atmosphere with the stadium in the background."

And downtown Jacksonville will have finally awakened to the potential its riverfront has always offered.

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