Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Ready to Party Bulldogs-Gators Brings Spotlight, Money to Downtown

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Ready to Party Bulldogs-Gators Brings Spotlight, Money to Downtown

Article excerpt

There is no mistaking which team Harvey Elerson will be rooting for at this afternoon's football border battle betwixt the University of Florida and the University of Georgia.

The dentist from Statesboro was the epitome of the Georgia Bulldog fan, decked out in a eye-blinding red and white Hawaiian print short-sleeved shirt with a big "G" emblazoned on front as he perused through items at a Jacksonville Landing sporting goods store.

For Landing retailers and restaurants, the annual my-team-is-better-than-your-team rivalry between fans of the Bulldogs and the Florida Gators is a financial boon, making it one of the two best weekends for businesses at the downtown landmark, the other being the Gator Bowl in January.

Although by most accounts, Jacksonville is assuredly Gator country, yesterday's frothing sea of red and black-clad Bulldog fans was a welcome sight, with adults chanting insults --- all in jest of course --- at Gator fans. Children from both sides gleefully tied strings around the necks of plastic toy alligators and little stuffed bulldogs, dragging, beating and stomping on them.

"You get 18-year-olds to 70-year-olds and the older people party just as much as the younger people," said Wayne McDonald, a bartender at Jocks and Jills, who said he expects that between yesterday and today he'll make the same amount in tips as he does in a week at his regular job with another restaurant.

"This is something you give up your week's shifts for," he said, rubbing the tip of his right thumb against his middle and forefingers. "It's so much money."

The nearby Hooter's restaurant was packed yesterday afternoon to the point of having a 20-minute waiting list. Jay Rhodes, the general manager, said the restaurant ordered an extra 500 kegs of beer just for this weekend --- 10 times the normal weekend demand.

Put another way: Those kegs represent an additional 200,000 more 16-ounce cups of beer, which he said will be consumed by tomorrow.

It's not just the Landing that's hearing the melody of cash registers, either. Major hotel chains in downtown, the Westside, the Beaches and even St. Augustine all report doing brisk business with bookings at full or near-full capacity.

"It's a terrific event for our image, as well as our pocketbooks," said Mike Weinstein, executive director of the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission.

The city, which spends between $110,000 and $120,000 to host the game, doesn't have any concrete figure of the financial return to Jacksonville on its investment.

But a figure often touted by business leaders puts it somewhere in the $20 million to $30 million range, including hotels, restaurants, stores and other events, such as the Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair or destinations like the Jacksonville Zoo. …

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