South Florida buzzing, but still misses the Super Bowl

The Clevelander expects to throw a party for nearly 2,000 in South Beach. Monkey Jungle is rooting for clouds to boost ticket sales. And Prime 112 is prepared to sizzle plenty of steaks.

This is Super Bowl weekend in South Florida without the Super Bowl, and the region's tourism industry can expect more of the same for years to come.

With the NFL refusing to send another championship to Miami Gardens without an upgraded Sun Life Stadium, one of the most popular Super Bowl hosts instead will be watching the big game from afar.

Last year, Florida lawmakers scuttled a bid by the Miami Dolphins to secure tax dollars for a $350 million stadium renovation, and the NFL promptly turned down South Florida’s Super Bowl bids for 2016 and 2017. That's left the tourism industry to hum along by its own steam during Super Bowl, and this weekend offers a case study in the game's impact — or lack of it.

“It’s packed,’’ said Nicki Grossman, tourism director for Broward County. “We have a number of hotels sold out. There is a lot of cruise activity.’’ Grossman said the busy weekend still falls short of Super Bowl business, but that the unfolding winter season continues to impress. “If Super Bowl was here, we’d be elbow-to-elbow’’ in tourists, she said, “rather than just arm’s length.”

In the larger debate over how much a community should spend on Super Bowl, the everyday tourism economy looms large. Local organizers of the New York-area’s Super Bowl had to raise $70 million to host Sunday’s game, enough money to buy nine minutes worth of commercials during a broadcast expected to fetch $4 million for every 30 seconds of advertising.

Can Super Bowl business boost tourism enough to justify the tab?

For William Talbert III, head of tourism in Miami-Dade, the exposure that comes with hosting a Super Bowl takes priority over the bump the game brings to South Florida’s winter tourism season. High-prices hotel rooms are good, but other Miami events such as Art Basel and Ultra Music Festival drive rates up as well, he said.

"Do we want it? Yes. Is it important to us? Yes," Talbert said.

During Super Bowl, "we’re pretty much guaranteed a week of positive media coverage, which is priceless,” he said.

The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino won’t have quite the event lineup it did back in 2010, when galas, celebrity parties and the Lingerie Bowl all led up to the Big Game. But the 500-room property near Hollywood is still fully booked through Monday, with events ranging from two Jerry Seinfeld standup shows to an invitation-only party Sunday.

“To kind of capitalize on the fact that the Super Bowl’s outdoors and freezing out there, we’re doing a Super Bowl party outdoors in our warm environment,” said Jeremy Weinstein, vice president of marketing. “We’re doing a huge pool party to really provide a kind of different experience from what you would get up in New York. We’re just taking advantage of all the beauty and warm weather South Florida has to offer.”

At Prime 112 in Miami Beach, South Florida’s last Super Bowl in 2010 brought a crush in reservations. But so does Super Bowl weekend in 2014 — the pricey steakhouse expects to be sold out, said owner Myles Chefetz.

“It’s a big celebrity thing and it’s a big media thing and it definitely translates into big dollars,” Chefetz said. “It’s fun.”

While early February is traditionally peak tourism season in Miami, the Super Bowl supercharges occupancy and especially room rates. The Saturday night before the game in 2010, for example, saw occupancy of more than 93 percent in Miami-Dade at average rates that topped $330. Last year, by comparison, the county’s occupancy was nearly 82 percent on the night before the Super Bowl, with rates averaging $212.

But a Super Bowl does not guarantee sky-high room fees. With Super Bowl set for a rare game in an open-air arena outside of the Sun Belt, New York hotel rates and ticket prices have been dropping all week.

“I have a hotel open in Midtown,’’ said Robert Finvarb, who owns Marriott franchises in South Florida and New York. “The Super Bowl has been a complete bust there.” Finvarb said his South Beach Courtyard by Marriott is currently generating more revenue than is his Springhill Suites in Manhattan.

Still, the longtime hotel operator said he pines for the big game’s impact. “It’s not filling the rooms,’’ he said, noting his Miami-area hotels are boasting occupancy levels over 90 percent this weekend. “If the Super Bowl were here, the room rates would be significantly higher. That’s the difference.”

At Monkey Jungle, the primate-inhabited tourist attraction in south Miami-Dade, past Super Bowls did not yield championship profits. Owner Sharon DuMond said attendance dropped 30 percent during Super Bowl weekend in 2010, and then surged 23 percent a year later when the game moved elsewhere. She saw the game as upending normal tourism patterns in the Miami area and warding off her normal flow of vacationers.

“Super Bowl didn’t do us any big favors,’’ she said. This weekend, she predicts a good crowd if the weather doesn’t cooperate with her customers. For Monkey Jungle, a cloudy day tends to yield a rush as tourists and locals look for alternatives to the beach.

A major sporting event will still keep Miami busy this weekend, with the Life Time Miami Marathon and Half Marathon expected to draw thousands of runners to the Sunday morning race. And the Super Bowl itself offers another opportunity to leverage even a far-off gameday into extra revenue.

The Clevelander, an Ocean Drive stalwart with a history of throwing big parties, will use every rooftop, sidewalk and indoor nook at its disposal for its annual Super Bowl bash. Even though the hotel is only expected to be 80 percent full — compared to 100 percent during the 2010 game — the party will be a “spectacle,” marketing manager Christina Ward said.

Cheerleaders will shake pom-poms, DJs will spin during commercials and models will be painted in Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks uniforms.

“We really kill it for Super Bowl,” Ward said.

The Fontainebleau Miami Beach expects to be sold out Saturday and nearly full Sunday, standard for winter business. Scott Flexman, vice president of sales and marketing, said he feels the temperature should bring the Super Bowl back.

“I always think of the fan experience,” he said. “What are they going to do in New York? Here you can beach, you can walk, you can be in shorts.”

That idea seemed appealing this weekend even to some in the center of the action.

Said Flexman: “The funny part of it is, a lot of New Yorkers flew down this weekend just to get away from it.”

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