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Jax Daily Record Friday, Mar. 13, 202003:19 PM EST

Planners respond to coronavirus

Fears of spreading the illness led to closings and delays.

By Katie Garwood, Mike Mendenhall and Scott Sailer – staff writers

With the first case of coronavirus diagnosed in Duval County as of March 13, cancellations, postponements and closings are becoming standard. 

Hospitality-related businesses are among those affected as events are canceled and travel to the region decreases. 

Mayor Lenny Curry announced March 13 that city venues, libraries, senior centers and other nonessential departments would close by the end of the day until further notice. 

That means events scheduled at city venues will be canceled or postponed. 

The Players Championship was canceled March 12 for the first time in the tournament’s history. It typically attracts about 200,000 visitors.

Organizers postponed the Generation W conference scheduled for April 3 at the University of North Florida. The event, which attracts about 1,300 attendees, is expected to take place in September.

Visit Jacksonville, the city’s tourism and marketing bureau, surveyed hotels and found most had group cancellations and postponements. Most also experienced a drop in leisure and business travel bookings, stemming from corporate bans on nonessential travel. 

Visit Jacksonville President and CEO Michael Corrigan said in a statement that a drop in business travel is expected for the next few months.

The agency also isn’t advertising or promoting the city to tourists. A spokeswoman said Visit Jacksonville had no advertising planned for March or April since the organization was planning to run more ads later in the year.

“We are working with state and national travel industry partners and will provide updates and insights when possible,” Corrigan said. “Local attractions, events and area hotels are assessing the situation for the next few months as we all follow the recommendations from health and city leaders.”

Florida Theatre President Numa Saisselin said the historic Downtown venue postponed all shows from March 13 through April 5. He hopes to reschedule as many events as possible. 

Saisselin said it’s typical for the theater to reschedule events once or twice per year, but the disruption caused by the coronavirus is unprecedented.

“The bigger question mark is how long this will take and how long authorities want venues to be closed,” he said.

Mary Fisher, president and CEO of Mary Fisher Design LLC, a web design and marketing firm, said her business is linked to swings in the stock market and the economy, which is affected by the coronavirus. 

She said the company was working on three trade show booths and all were canceled.

“Our phones are completely dead right now,” she said. “No one is calling.” 

 In The Rail Yard District near Downtown, wedding bookings at The Glass Factory haven’t been affected as of midday March 13, said Business Manager Lauryn Howell. A wedding was planned for this weekend.

Howell said she would rebook clients who decide to reschedule, but none have canceled because of the virus as of March 13.

 “We’re carrying on with business as usual,” Howell said. “The more people who do that, the less impact we’ll see across every sector of business. That’s what we’re hoping for.”


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