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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Dec. 27, 200612:00 PM EST

Gator Bowl brings big boost for business

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by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

The Gator Bowl game was inspired more than 60 years ago by a group of business leaders who saw the event as a way to bring more economic activity to town after the Christmas holiday. It worked back then and it continues to work today.

This week, thousands of fans plus teams from Georgia Tech and West Virginia and hundreds of sports writers and a substantial network television crew will arrive in Jacksonville, filling up the hotels, restaurants and bars.

Ask anybody in the hospitality or retail business and they’ll tell you Gator Bowl week is only slightly behind Florida-Georgia weekend when it comes to economic impact.

“It’s one of our biggest weeks of the year,” said Michael Chambliss, the Landing’s director of marketing.

“It’s a huge end-of-the-year bump,” he said. “The Landing is not really a destination for traditional Christmas shopping like the suburban malls. But this week, while they are dealing with returns and gift cards, we’re seeing new faces who are here to spend money. It’s a big group of people mostly from out of town who are here to have a good time and spend money.”

Chambliss also said that between hosting the official pep rallies for both teams and having the Gator Bowl Parade pass directly in front of the Landing, the shops, restaurants and lounges get a lot of business from both locals and sports tourists, especially after the game is over.

“The winning team comes here to celebrate and the losers want to drown their sorrows. We’re here for both groups,” he said.

Shop owners also look forward to the week each year, since it brings so many visitors Downtown.

“The Landing is driven by tourism more than you might think and this is the second-best weekend of the year,” said Doug Ganson, who has owned Sundrez Cards & Gifts for 14 years. He said he adds inventory to his store based on what he has learned about the buying habits of football fans over the years.

“Any event that has to do with sports, we sell lots of beads and cigars. The demand for party hats and team-related party favors seems to grow every year,” said Ganson.

Perhaps more than any other single business segment, the hospitality industry gets a big boost each year from the game. In addition to hosting hordes of fans, the hotels hosting the players, coaches and athletic department staffs experience a spike in business that is unique to cities with college bowl games.

“It’s special having the game here,” said Wendy Priesand, director of sales and marketing for the Omni Hotel, which is Georgia Tech’s headquarters. “Hotels everywhere can usually sell out for New Year’s Eve, but we get a full week’s business from the Gator Bowl. We see a great economic impact starting the day after Christmas when the players and coaches check in and then later in the week, the parents arrive for the game.”

Priesand also said the impact goes beyond just having a fully occupied hotel. She estimated the Omni’s food and beverage department alone will experience a $50,000 impact from the game.

“It’s a great group to have in the hotel and a wonderful piece of business this time of year. It makes our December,” said Priesand.

Paul Buff, associate director of sales and marketing at the Hyatt, agreed.

“The Gator Bowl definitely impacts our business. We’ll see an increase in occupancy each day this week. The fans usually start arriving Thursday and our front desk gets really busy on Friday and Saturday,” he said.

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