Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Gator Bowl Turnout Surprises the Experts; 30,000 Rooms Rented by Visitors

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Gator Bowl Turnout Surprises the Experts; 30,000 Rooms Rented by Visitors

Article excerpt

Byline: Timothy J. Gibbons, Times-Union staff writer

Payne Caulder doesn't really remember the first time he saw the Wolfpack in action -- an understandable memory lapse considering he was only two weeks old at the time.

"I've only missed one home game," he said, an absence attributable to the fact that he was playing in a football game himself at the time.

There was no chance of Caulder missing North Carolina State's appearance in the Gator Bowl, though. Along with his mother -- who was holding him during his first game -- and a bunch of family friends, Caulder will be camped out in the fourth row of Alltel Stadium tomorrow.

Until then, Caulder and the other thousands of fans packed into the city are opting for more comfortable lodgings, filling to capacity the area's hotels. From the Wolfpack-held downtown lodgings to the Irish-occupied beaches haunts, Gator Bowl fans have surpassed even the number of overnighters at the recent Georgia-Florida game.

The Jacksonville and the Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau said that about 30,000 rooms will be rented this week, topping the 24,000 rooms rented for Georgia-Florida.

"This year they did a great job of picking teams," said Kathleen Ratcliffe, president of the bureau. "We knew both teams would draw very well for us, but I think the numbers are surprising even us a little bit."

As of yesterday morning, there were still some rooms available in Jacksonville, including less than a dozen going for around $55. Most of the vacancies topped $100, and many hotels require a two- or three-night minimum stay.

The visitors could double the amount of money pumped into the Jacksonville economy by last year's Gator Bowl. The visitor's bureau estimates the game could generate about $21.3 million, compared with $10.6 million last year.

At The Jacksonville Landing yesterday, hordes of 'Pack partisans turned the sidewalks crimson as they lounged, red-shirted and -hatted, in the sunlight outside the restaurants or strolled the Riverwalk, admiring the boats moored nearby.

"It's just great just to be here, to be able to wear shorts and sandals," said Lola Hoye, who, despite being an N. …

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