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Jax Daily Record Friday, Sep. 14, 200112:00 PM EST

Cruise ship plans moving forward

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by: Bill Johnson

Although Jacksonville Economic Development Commission executive director Mike Weinstein won’t officially leave the JEDC for his post as president of the Super Bowl Host Committee until the end of the month, he is already actively doing the job.

One of the unique aspects of the 2005 Super Bowl will be the fact that the banks of the St. Johns River will be lined with several cruise ships that will serve as both entertainment centers and floating hotels. Alltel Stadium may get $50 million in renovations before the Super Bowl and seat in excess of 80,000 people, but officials estimate well over 100,000 people will descend upon Jacksonville the week of the game.

There are approximately 30,000 hotel rooms in Jacksonville, which means the Host Committee will have to come up with about another 20,000 rooms. Hence the cruise ships.

“We have started to work on that,” said Weinstein. “We have talked to half a dozen to eight or nine lines so far that are interested in participating.”

On Oct. 7, when the Jacksonville Jaguars travel to Seattle to play the Seahawks, Weinstein will also make the trip. That Sunday he will attend the game and the next day he plans to meet with officials from Holland America, the cruise line based in Seattle.

“They have vessels on both the east and west coast,” said Weinstein.

As the ships, literally, cruise into town the last week of January in 2005, the big question will be where to dock each ship. Weinstein said he expects five or six ships that will hold about 600 people and four or five ships that hold about 1,200.

“We continue to work on how to best figure out how they should be docked,” he said. “The bigger ships cannot get under the Mathews Bridge and will be docked just north of the bridge at Talleyrand.”

Because the ships will be a half mile or so from each other and the center of activity that week will be around the stadium, the Host Committee will employ several tourist-friendly methods to get people from the ships to the stadium area and all over downtown. Weinstein said visitors will also be able to get around Jacksonville easily, and at no cost.

“We will use water taxis, trolleys, ferries and Disney-like trams,” said Weinstein. “We will encourage walking, as well.”

Right now the area along the river between the stadium and Talleyrand isn’t up to National Football League standards and needs plenty of aesthetic work before the big game.

For those wanting to get out of downtown and visit Jacksonville’s beaches and golf courses and the surrounding communities, Weinstein says their transportation needs will be met. Plans are for there to be free shuttle buses and vans available.

“We want people to trust us for their transportation needs so every visitor that comes doesn’t need a rental car,” said Weinstein. “We will encourage the use of our free facilities.”

Whichever cruise lines are here for the game, Weinstein says, they will benefit in ways beyond the bottom line.

“The cruise ships see it [the Super Bowl] as a great public relations opportunity for two reasons,” said Weinstein. “One, it’s great exposure for them to the world. And two, it’s great exposure for them to the guests that stay on them.”

While hosting the Super Bowl could have immediate benefits for the city, one of the long-range benefits of the game and employing cruise ships could be that Jacksonville will eventually become a port of call for several cruise lines or a home port for a cruise line. Weinstein believes that is certainly a possibility, but to have it happen before the 2005 Super Bowl is a long shot .

“Becoming a port of call before the Super Bowl would be a challenge,” said Weinstein. “I think the Super Bowl gives us the opportunity to be the home port for a line earlier than later. The Port Authority’s Dave Kaufman has been talking to numerous cruise lines about Jacksonville becoming a home port.”

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