Originally created 10/27/01

Football fans bring big bucks



JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - If only for this weekend, business in the tourism community should return to normal in Jacksonville.

Today's Georgia-Florida game will be a sight for sore eyes for hotels, restaurants, taxi cab companies and other businesses hoping to cash in after the economic pounding they've taken since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Southeast Georgia also reaps the economic benefits of the annual contest.

In Camden County, which sits along the state line, restaurants, gas stations, motels and golf courses say the weekend of the game is one of the busiest times of year.

"We are slammed," said Mike Stewart, the golf pro at Osprey Cove in St. Marys, Ga. "The Friday before the game is one of our biggest days of the year."

Mr. Stewart said he could book five times as many golfers as the course could handle.

The bulk of golfers are "far and away" Georgia fans, Mr. Stewart said.

To some, this week's game represents more of a stopgap than a remedy to an ever-looming recession.

Though the football game is one of the city's biggest annual events, it was already on most businesses' calenders, as it has been for most of the nearly 80 years the game has been played in Jacksonville. More than 80,000 fans flock to the city to see the game each year.

"It's not going to make up from our loss from the attack. But it certainly doesn't hurt," said John Remmers, the general manager at Omni Jacksonville Hotel downtown. "It's important, but it was going to happen anyway."

You can't make a reservation at the 350-room Omni this weekend. And by today, there may be no space left at the 960-room Adam's Mark hotel. Both hotels say they will be fully staffed because of demand, something neither could say weeks ago. A number of hotels reduced employee hours and some workers were laid off.

The impact of the attacks also affected companies such as Gator City Taxi & Shuttle Service. Bob Pate, Gator City's director of customer service, said his drivers were especially hurting near Jacksonville International Airport because airlines reduced the number of flights after the September attacks. The number of taxis on the street will be at least 200 this weekend, doubling recent levels.

Discount Pro-Wear, a sports paraphernalia shop inside The Jacksonville Landing, has not had as hard a time since the attacks. Owner Harold Fine said business slowed during the week of the attacks, but that it has since been back to normal. After Christmas, Mr. Fine said the Georgia-Florida game is his biggest sales period.

"Our back room is like a hazard room, it's so piled up with stuff," he said.

He tried to stock his store with as much Bulldog and Gator merchandise as he could because he expects a big boost from this weekend. He'll have almost 20 people working this weekend at Discount Pro-Wear; his other store in The Landing, Destination Jacksonville; and a third temporary store that will sell just Florida and Georgia merchandise.

Morris News Service writers Gordon Jackson and Terry Dickson contributed to this report.