The area will benefit when NCAA arrives

Posted Monday, Mar. 25, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Late last week, Arlington hotels had about 25 percent of their rooms still available for this weekend. But today, that's likely to drop as quickly as a free throw as college basketball fans make plans to attend the NCAA South Region final starting Friday at Cowboys Stadium.

Major sporting events at the stadium that attract tens of thousands of overnight visitors are huge for Arlington hotels and restaurants, and the impact is felt in Fort Worth as well.

In advance of March Madness descending on Tarrant County, "hotels are doing very, very well," said Decima Cooper, public relations director for Experience Arlington, the city's convention and tourism group. "It's all about the venue and ease of access to the game," she said.

Two games will be played Friday at Cowboys Stadium: Kansas will face Michigan and Florida will take on Florida Gulf Coast University. The winners will advance to Sunday's game and a shot at the Final Four.

The stadium is being set up to seat 30,000 fans for this week's games. But it's only a precursor to next year, when it hopes to attract 100,000 for the Final Four.

Three years ago, the NBA All-Star game drew 108,713 spectators to Cowboys Stadium, and more than 100,000 attended Super Bowl XLV in Arlington in February 2011.

Cooper said that the NCAA is already scouting venues for events tied to next year's Final Four and that Arlington is in the thick of those marketing efforts, working closing with travel companies that put together ticket and hotel packages.

"We're hitting it pretty hard," Cooper said. "Next year, it's definitely going to be on a grander scale."

At BoomerJacks Grill and Bar in Lincoln Square, just north of the stadium, manager Judy Harper-Larson said she'll be fully staffed to handle the crowds expected this weekend, both those attending games and those watching at the bar.

"We'll get pretty busy," Harper-Larson said. "It's a real fun environment. Everyone is having a good time. Whenever we have a big event, we schedule accordingly."

Across town at No Frills Grill off Eastchase Parkway, manager Kenneth Robertson said they'll see an uptick from folks coming in to watch the games.

At the Omni Fort Worth Hotel in downtown Fort Worth, large blocks of rooms are reserved for game fans, general manager Andrew Casperson said. He expects the 614-room hotel to sell out.

"We expect the city of Fort Worth to fill up," Casperson said. "People seek out to stay in Fort Worth. They realize how fun Fort Worth is."

Bob Jameson, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Cowboys Stadium events have an immediate impact on the city. The stadium has introduced Fort Worth to the sports industry in a way it didn't experience before, said Jameson, who was general manager of the downtown Worthington Renaissance Hotel for 25 years before joining the bureau this year.

"I know it will be a discernible lift in activity," Jameson said. "Next weekend looks to be very strong."

Sundance Square, the downtown Fort Worth entertainment district, has been using Twitter to fuel traffic into downtown bars and restaurants since the tournament began four days ago.

Otherwise, Sundance Square is relying on its existing marketing efforts to draw crowds to Fort Worth, said Tracy Gilmour, Sundance's marketing director. For example, it has materials in hotel rack displays across the Metroplex, she said.

Sundance Square couldn't do much for the basketball tournament this year because it has two office buildings and a plaza under construction in the heart of the district. But it will be a full-court press next year for Final Four events and fans, she said.

"There have been conversations about that," Gilmour said. "Our calendar is already getting some nice things filled in for 2014."

Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727

Twitter: @SandraBakerFWST

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