Also MOVED in advance
DENVER (AP) _ For the four college basketball teams that survived the far-flung and grueling NCAA regional tournaments, the road stops here and the city hopes the bucks - up to 25 million of them - stop here too.
The most optimistic projections by the Greater Denver Chamber of Commerce and the Denver Organizing Committee are that the 20,000 fans, players, coaches, reporters and tourists will spend $25 million when the Final Four Basketball Tournament comes to town March 31 through April 2.
Even the most pessimistic prediction, from the International Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus, estimates at least $17 million will be infused into the local economy, if however briefly.
Just how much money will flow into Denver ″depends on what teams come,″ said Roger Kenney, a chamber representative on the Denver Organizing Committee. But no matter which teams make the trip, their fans are being invited ″to stay a few days longer and see Denver, or Colorado Springs, or take a trip to the mountains.″ And spend money.
″It will be the biggest hotel weekend in the eight years I’ve been doing business here,″ said Harold Levin, general manager of the Executive Tower Inn in downtown Denver. ″These people aren’t ordinary consumers. They’re not rate-conscious like a lot of people who come in for conventions. They’ll spend more money than any other group in a very long time.″
Organizing committee officials say nearly 90 percent of downtown Denver’s 16,000 hotel rooms are booked for the tournament. Usually at this time of year hotels are only half full.
Over the course of the tournament, hotels will pull in about $12 million, the organizing committee said. Cabs, limousines, buses and rental cars could receive as much as $1.4 million and retail sales along the 16th Street Mall could jump as much as 20 percent.
City officials, supported by an army of volunteers - most of whom won’t get to see any of the basketball action - are doing their best to make sure the visitors get a good impression of the Mile High City.
The volunteers range from a former U.S. president, Gerald Ford, to high school teen-agers. Ford is one of several honorary committeemen that also include Gov. Roy Romer, Denver Mayor Federico Pena and University of Colorado President Gordon Gee.
Some of the volunteers don’t even care about basketball, said Joan Wilson, who heads the volunteer committee. ″They care about Denver and they want to put it in the limelight.″
Tournament games will be held at McNichols Arena, which holds about 17,000 fans. This year’s tournament will be the last NCAA Final Four tournament to be held in a small arena for awhile. Next year’s March Madness will be held in the Superdome in New Orleans while the following year it will be in the Minneapolis Metrodome.
″Since Denver was lucky enough to get the Final Four, we’d like to take that extra step,″ said Fred Luetzen, the man who is preparing McNichols to accommodate the nearly fans and more than 200 reporters covering the event.
Denver’s red carpet treatment for visitors will begin at Stapleton International Airport where volunteers dressed in Final Four ″uniforms″ will be circulating in all five of the concourses to guide visitors to the baggage claim area and provide information about skiing, shopping and dining out.
Howard Weese is in charge of transportation and has arranged for 60 city buses, 180 chauffeured limousines, 80 taxis from three cab companies and 80 leased 1990 Oldsmobiles to help get people to their hotels, to the games and around the Denver area for sightseeing.
In the event of a spring snowstorm, he’s arranged for city snowplow crews to clear the way in and out of the sports complex area near McNichols.
Weese said he attended the Final Four tournaments in Kansas City in 1988 and Seattle in 1989 and saw everything they did right ″and especially everything they did wrong. I remember standing in the rain in Seattle with seven members of the NCAA committee. I told them that this won’t happen in Denver. It won’t. I have my backups and backups for my backups.″
Among activities planned especially for the Final Four fans are an all-star basketball game between the nation’s top senior college players on Thursday, the NCAA’s ″YES″ basketball clinic for 500 boys and girls on March 31, a noon Friday pep rally for the four colleges along the 16th Street Mall and a ″ski train special″ to take 750 Final Four officials and fans to Winter Park for a day of skiing for $39.
Three conventions also will be in town. The National Association of Basketball Coaches, the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association will meet during the week.
Boosters also are counting on longer-term benefits from the media attention.
″This is capturing more media attention for Denver than the city has ever gotten,″ said Rich Grant of the Metro Denver Visitors and Conventions Bureau.
Officials admit the financial gains will be short-lived.
Mitch Martin of the Center for Business and Economic Forecasting in Denver said tax revenues and other items associated with long-term economic strength won’t be significant.
And when it’s over, ″we’ll go back to the usual fighting for a buck,″ Levin said.