CHICAGO - Miami businesses have been pulling out all the stops - including handing out free cocktails - to try to coax money from a large influx of tourists ahead of this weekend's Super Bowl.
In addition to plying passersby with alcohol, local area business associations have spent the last two years cleaning up the city's image by removing ugly security shutters and offering promotions in the hopes they'll be ready for the country's most-hyped sporting event. Local entrepreneurs are preparing for an expected onslaught of 100,000 visitors to downtown and surrounding restaurants, hotels and retail shops, all with open wallets.
Super Bowl XLI is forecast to generate some $153 million in additional direct spending throughout Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, according to projections from the financial services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
We're very excited, said Tony Alonso, co-owner of La Epoca, a long-standing family-owned clothing store with Cuban roots that caters to trendy shoppers on Flagler Street in the heart of Miami's refurbished shopping district. I know sales are going to be higher.
With three floors and 24,000 square feet of retail space, the business, which relocated to its new space four years ago, has been gearing up for tourists by extending its operating hours and hosting regular weekly events such as Mojito night, where the staff dish up free cocktails and host jazz music to lure potential customers from the street.
Retail is entertainment and now we're trying to enhance the experience of being here, Alonso said.
A host of privately-owned businesses plan to cash in on two weeks of football celebrations taking place in the nation's 11th-largest metropolitan area, beginning with the Pro Bowl NFL all-star game last weekend and culminating in Sunday's finale, where the New Orleans Saints battle the Indianapolis Colts.
The buzz surrounding NFL football is good news for South Florida, which has hosted the Super Bowl for 10 straight years, but was hit harder by the recession than other areas of the U.S. due to the real-estate glut that followed a construction boom that drove down housing prices.
George Montes, owner of Chef George catering located in nearby Davie, said he was expecting a 15-percent boost in business in the coming week. Montes, who employs a full-time staff of five and contracts with some 15 part-time waiters and bartenders, has been trying to make up for a slowdown in traditional catering by offering cooking classes in his professional kitchen or at private homes.
It's tough, it's a lot of ups and downs, he said. People are trying to save money.
Super Bowl-related spending is expected to be up 3 percent over last year's big game in Tampa, as tourists, media and local residents shell out celebratory dollars. The grand total, however, is still forecast to be down 27 percent from three years ago, the last time the Super Bowl was held in Miami, PricewaterhouseCoopers said.
Spending will once again be constrained by prevailing economic conditions, said Robert Canton, the firm's sports and tourism director. Still, higher room rates, the return of more hospitality events and larger stadium capacity this year are working in this city's favor, he said.
Downtown Miami is a bright spot. Since 2005, some $13 billion of investment has transformed its shopping area from a sleepy nine-to-five employment district, passed over in favor of trendy South Beach into a vibrant destination, said Alyce Robertson, executive director of the Miami Downtown Development Authority, a business improvement group.
We've added a number of new businesses - especially small businesses, restaurants and retail outlets, she said. The scene is dotted with eateries such as Ecco Pizzateca & Lounge, Tre Italian Bistro and bars like Segafredo Brickell, Blue Martini, Café Sci Sci and Brickell Irish Pub.
The development authority has been gearing up for the Super Bowl for two years, Robertson said, with beautification efforts. And this week, ahead of the big game, some 25 city-sponsored ambassadors are on hand to assist visitors with recommendations for shopping and dining, she said.
The buzz, of course, is not limited to Miami. In nearby Ft. Lauderdale, home to NFL Super Bowl headquarters, a number of high-profile events designed to promote local businesses were unfolding.
Levinson Jewelers, a husband and wife operation that has been in business for 27 years, was preparing to host an invite-only Chalk Talk party on the evening of February 3, featuring former NFL players and TV analysts Marshall Faulk and Michael Irvin.
Inside their tony Las Olas Boulevard store, the two celebrities will answer football-strategy questions against a backdrop of limited-edition watches and rare jewels, while guests enjoy hors d'oeuvres and cocktails, said co-owner Mark Levinson.
We're overcapacity right now with the number of people, he said. It's just been crazy the amount of reaction we've gotten.