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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Dec. 26, 200112:00 PM EST

City ready for two football games

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by: Mike Sharkey

by Mike Sharkey

Staff Writer

Although the Toyota Gator Bowl is still almost a week away, it’s a good time to be a tourist and entertainment-related businessman.

With local favorite Florida State and Virginia Tech scheduled to meet in next Tuesday’s game, local hotels and restaurants are getting ready to enjoy the financial boom that comes with having Seminole and Hokie fans in town for almost a week.

Starting with the arrival of the team today, Hokie football players and fans will steadily fill the 508 rooms at the Marriott at Sawgrass. For several years now, the Ponte Vedra hotel has served as the headquarters for the Big East Conference representative in the game. And, this year’s Big East team is a favorite of local hoteliers.

“They are going to sell us out,” said George Fetherston, general manager of the Marriott at Sawgrass. “The team comes in on the 26th and the fans are booked for between the 28th and the 31st. We also have a real good house for New Year’s Day. We have about a 90 percent occupancy rate that day.

“It’s going to be an exciting week.”

Fetherston said ever since his hotel reached an agreement with the Big East and the Gator Bowl Association, business for the annual game has been good. But, some teams can make business great.

“Virginia Tech is outstanding and so is Notre Dame,” said Fetherston.

(The Irish can be invited to the game provided they have at least eight wins and are not going to a Bowl Championship Series game. Not this year, though: they lost six games.)

A couple of Big East teams make local hoteliers cringe. Syracuse fans don’t travel well and neither do those from Miami.

The deal to house the Big East team isn’t something Fetherston or any one of his sales reps secured. Virginia Tech didn’t have a say in the matter, either.

“The teams don’t make that decision,” he said. “The Big East commissioners and the Gator Bowl Committee decided that. We have housed the Big East team for some time now.”

The Jacksonville Jaguars also may benefit from the Gator Bowl. With a non-sellout home game scheduled for Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs and the Seminoles-Hokies clash set for Tuesday, Jaguars officials are counting on some of the college fans in town to buy tickets to Sunday’s game against the Chiefs.

“I’m sure we will have a number of people doing a football double-header,” said Dan Edwards, executive director of communications and broadcasting for the Jaguars. “I don’t have the numbers, but I do expect quite a few fans will go to both games.”

The number of tickets sold for Sunday’s game won’t be available until later today but one thing is certain— the game isn’t a sellout and having 30,000 fans from Virginia Tech in town as well as several thousand out-of-town FSU fans will help the walk-up sales Sunday.

Despite knowing who was playing in the Gator Bowl since Dec. 9, Edwards said the Jaguars didn’t market Sunday’s game against the Chiefs directly to Hokies or Seminoles fans.

“That’s done through the Gator Bowl Association,” said Edwards. “They do that every year when there are two games close together. We try to work out some type of package.”

Edwards also said the fact that the two games are less than 48 hours apart will not be a problem. Unless there is an all-day monsoon during the Jags-Chiefs game, the field will be fine. Also, cleaning crews will have plenty of time to spiffy up Alltel Stadium and the grounds crew will be able to convert the field and repaint the end zones in time for the 12:30 Gator Bowl kickoff.

“It really isn’t a problem,” said Edwards. “We have had games on consecutive days and been fine.”

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