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Tampa’s well-used plan for hosting the big game pays off again

Tampa's well-used plan for hosting the big game pays off again

  • Tampa’s well-used plan for hosting the big game pays off again 01/10/17 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 10, 2017 3:58pm] Photo reprints | Article reprints
  • “The good thing about having done this before is that we’ve got the template in place,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. “
  • “We had anticipated Poe would be closed” because concert staff would fill it up, Buckhorn said.
  • The services the city contributes – police, paramedics, transportation planning and other personnel – might amount to more than $1 million, Buckhorn said.
  • Tampa officials were so encouraged that they met Tuesday afternoon to start planning a bid to bring the game back in 2021.

TAMPA — When it came to moving crowds before Monday night’s college football championship, the challenges were well-known, the plan was proven and the reviews were good.

@TB_Times: Tampa’s well-used plan for hosting the big game pays off again

TAMPA — When it came to moving crowds before Monday night’s college football championship, the challenges were well-known, the plan was proven and the reviews were good.

On the morning after, fans praised the Riverwalk, the chance to use Uber for free and the bounty of activities clustered close together near the waterfront.

“The setup, particularly downtown, was great,” said Clemson fan Russ Pearson, 51, of Greenville, S.C. “Once you parked, you had easy access.”

And the choice of things to do?

“Almost too much,” Pearson said. “You had to pick.”

Tampa officials were so encouraged that they met Tuesday afternoon to start planning a bid to bring the game back in 2021.

Still, there were a few complaints, generally concerning traffic and crowds around Raymond James Stadium before and after the game. WFLA-Ch. 8 reported that tempers boiled over before the game because of two-hour lines of fans waiting to get into the stadium.

“We continued to monitor the landscape of it throughout,” said Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, which put together the bid for the game. “Our friends at the Tampa Sports Authority are some of the best in the business when it comes to stadium operations. They were on top of it. They were working to try to expedite as quick as possible. … Every line that was available, I’m sure, was open.”

Another problem: After the game traffic leaving the stadium was gridlocked. At one point, Alabama fan B.K. “Skipper” Goodwin III of Birmingham heard from his Uber driver that it might take two hours just to get out of the RayJay parking lot. After an hour and 15 minutes, someone opened another exit, and the family managed to get back to Harbour Island about 2:30 a.m.

A Tampa Bay Times reporter saw the congestion first-hand. Well after midnight, huge numbers of people gathered along N Dale Mabry Highway south of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Some were meeting drivers who were picking them up. Others wandered into and out of the travel lanes randomly, even drunkenly. All contributed to the mess.

Still, even with the long trip home Goodwin and his family said they felt welcome and had a good time.

“We made a four-day trip out of it,” he said. “Glad we did.”

His son, Kyle Goodwin, said he and his wife Ashley had heard that Tampa had plenty to do for families. After going to the Florida Aquarium and walking around downtown and Ybor City, they’re open to the idea of a return trip with their two small children.

“We would definitely consider coming back,” he said.

That’s consistent with what local officials and event organizers said they heard all weekend.

“An unqualified success,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan. A capacity crowd packed Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park for a free Sunday night concert with Usher. Amalie Arena ran out of earbuds to give away because so many fans showed up for media day.

The city of Atlanta, which is hosting next year’s championship, and its host committee sent more than 40 people Tampa to get a feel for the game and the planning it requires.

“What I saw was a highly organized even that managed traffic flow well, that got people in and out of the game efficiently,” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said after a news conference at the Tampa Convention Center. “I saw terrific customer service. And then I saw very strong branding without it being overwhelming.”

Tampa has had a lot of practice from hosting four Super Bowls, the Republican National Convention in 2012, the Bollywood Oscars in 2014, the Frozen Four collegiate hockey playoffs and the NCAA Women’s Final Four.

“The good thing about having done this before is that we’ve got the template in place,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. “We spent literally three years preparing for this. In this environment, particularly as it relates to security, it is a very, very different world than it was even a week ago. So for us, a large part of our work was making sure people were safe.”

Buckhorn said much of the law enforcement preparation took into account every possible scenario, including the kind of attack that last week killed five people and wounded six others at the Fort Lauderdale airport. While the city tried to have a lot of security on hand so that fans felt safe, much of the preparation remained out of sight.

“Some of it I can’t talk about,” he said. “I don’t know that we added more (security after the airport shooting). We may have changed some tactics.”

The services the city contributes — police, paramedics, transportation planning and other personnel — might amount to more than $1 million, Buckhorn said.

Tampa managed the crowds around Curtis Hixon park by urging concert-goers to consider parking at all of the garages downtown, not just those closest to the park. After the concerts, it also directed some traffic west out of downtown toward Howard Avenue, instead of just north onto Interstate 275.

Organizers had said ahead of time the Poe garage, next to the park, would be closed. In fact, it was open.

“We had anticipated Poe would be closed” because concert staff would fill it up, Buckhorn said. “We didn’t anticipate that there would be capacity at Poe during those concerts. It turned out there was, and that’s fine.”

Contact Richard Danielson at (813) 226-3403 or rdanielson@tampabay.com. Follow @Danielson_Times

Tampa’s well-used plan for hosting the big game pays off again

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