JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Jan. 24, 2005) -- New Orleans has Bourbon Street, Miami has South Beach and Jacksonville has the St. Johns River.
The river may not have the cachet of the others, but it is nevertheless the city's centerpiece and will be featured prominently during Super Bowl
"The river is just a perfect backdrop for the Super Bowl in Jacksonville," said Karen Chastain, a city attorney serving as the mayor's liaison to the
Feb. 6 championship game. "It's an important item that we want to highlight and showcase."
Organizers hope the river makes a lasting impression during the city's first Super Bowl. The 310-mile, north-flowing river cuts directly through
downtown Jacksonville and is just a Michael Vick pass away from Alltel Stadium. It also will provide the setting for most Super Bowl festivities.
"From an event standpoint, the river really draws everything together," said Reid Sigmon, vice president of operations for the Super Bowl host
committee. "It's the focal point of all the activity."
The Super Bowl's two most prominent attractions -- the NFL Experience and Superfest -- have been set up along the downtown riverfront.
The NFL Experience is an interactive theme park that features more than 50 games. Superfest is a street festival that spans both sides of the river
and has three main stages for three nights of free concerts.
There will be four luxury cruise ships docked in the riverfront area. The Radisson Seven Seas Navigator will be downtown. Three ships from Holland
America will be about a mile north, but still visible from the area. And a Carnival cruise ship will be at the terminal, about 10 miles north of
The cruise ships will provide the additional 3,000-plus hotel rooms needed to give Jacksonville enough accommodations to satisfy NFL requirements for
hosting a Super Bowl. The game will draw about 100,000 visitors to the River City.
"The cruise ships were a creative solution to our hotel problem," Chastain said. "They display the river nicely and create a temporary infrastructure
for hotel rooms."
The river will be lined with boats and yachts, and a fleet of water taxis will shuttle people around downtown. Organizers expect the dozen or so water
taxis to be a main source of transportation. They also anticipate that people will use a recently constructed riverwalk, which offers miles of paved
walkway along both riverbanks, to navigate downtown.
The riverwalk will provide prime viewing spots for the Feb. 3 boat parade. The football-themed parade will feature illuminated boats of all sizes
traveling through the St. Johns River and will be followed by the first of three nights of fireworks.
"Because of the river's historical importance to the city, it's obviously a huge focal point of everything we're going to do," Sigmon said.
Jacksonville's four bridges near the downtown area -- Main Street, Acosta, Hart and Fuller Warren -- will be lit throughout Super Bowl week, enhancing
what organizers believe will be the primary visual during pregame and game-day telecasts.
Dubbed the "Super Bowl on the River" since Jacksonville first bid for the big game, the city has backed up its campaign. But some worry that the
traffic from cruise ships and hundreds of boats and yachts could harm the river.
"We'd like to make sure the river doesn't become just a trash dump," said Neil Armingeon, a spokesman for St. Johns Riverkeeper, a nonprofit
organization that advocates preservation of the waterway.
Riverkeeper will have a boat on the river during the week, monitoring any problems and trying to educate people about the river.
"People need to remember that if it was not for the river, we probably wouldn't have the Super Bowl," Armingeon said.
Organizers agree, which is one reason they showcased as much of the river as they could for the biggest annual event in sports.
"The river is absolutely a unique factor to this Super Bowl with the cruise ships, the lighted bridges, the water transportation," Sigmon said. "All
of those are things people will always remember about this game. People are going to be very impressed with the beauty of the river and it's
importance to this community."