Want to cash in on the estimated $13.2 million spending influx that Omaha saw from visitors during the 8-day Olympic Trials in 2016? So does Jacksonville, and then some.
The city, one of 6 finalists for the 2016 Olympic Trials, believes that they can earn that total and then some, making the even well worth the costs. In fact, they think they can do one better than the Nebraskans’ 160,000 in attendance across 15 sessions. Jacksonville wants a sellout.
“We really feel we’d be able to sell out all the events and create a buzz to be part of the Olympic process,” Jacksonville’s director of sports and entertainment Alan Verlander told the Florida Times-Union last year. With the huge swimming following in the state of Florida, including the country’s best high school program the Bolles School, and at least one native son who should be a factor at this meet Ryan Murphy, he may just be right.
The challenge, however, will be that Jacksonville would need to perform much better than Omaha did in 2012 in prelims to surpass Omaha’s attendance numbers. That’s because in the likely configuration once a pool is in, Veterans’ Memorial Stadium would hold 13,000 fans or fewer. Even with sellouts of 13,000 seats for every finals (including the last Monday, after everyone’s gone home), that still leaves 8,000 per session required for just prelims: a far cry better than what we saw in Omaha. At the end of the day, though, it’s quite an attainable goal, given the relatively close population. The Greater Jacksonville area had 1.3 million residents as of 2010, which is about half-a-million more than Omaha.
Updated: Veterans Memorial will only seat 10,000 fans per session, making their goal of beating Omaha’s attendance record nearly impossible.
Still, sellouts are possible with huge swimming hubs like Gainesville (University of Florida, Ryan Lochte), Daytona Beach (Ryan Lochte again), and Orlando (Grand Prix meet, YMCA Nationals) within a very driveable two hours, there is a huge pool of fans to draw from without even counting the national influx.
Veterans Memorial would provide a scenic backdrop for the water-logged event, as it sits right on the banks of the St. Johns River that runs through town, and pretty close to two major freeways.
We zoomed out to about a 2-mile square around the pool (what we’d consider the high end of “walkable”) and looked at how many “hotels” came up; we counted only about a dozen or so, and most of those were across the Main Street bridge. The official Jacksonville website only lists two hotels as “within walking distance,” which is a scary though. If you extend that range out just a little bit, though, there is certainly plenty of room, overall, to house everybody, it will just require a lot of vehicles.
The Arena is about a 20 mile drive from Jacksonville International, but is also just outside of downtown Jacksonville meaning lots of entertainment and restaurant options. It sits in a complex along with Everbank Field, which recently hosted a Super Bowl. Despite being by the water, there won’t be much relief from scorching heat – the averages in early July poke into the 90’s, with 90% relative humidity in the mornings.
A major concern, as we noted when Jacksonville first announced its bid, is some recent structural issues in a facility that’s only 10 years old. There’s also no obvious major convention center to house events like the warmup pool and the AquaZone, though USA Swimming must have found a solution to that problem or Jacksonville wouldn’t have made it to the next round.
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