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Tampa Ready For Crowds, Attention That Come With National Championship

Mark Schreiner
WUSF 89.7 News
Construction crews prepare Tampa's Curtis Hixon Park earlier this week for the concerts taking place this weekend in conjunction with the College Football Playoff National Championship.

While all eyes will turn Monday night to the College Football Playoff National Championship showdown between Alabama and Clemson, downtown Tampa is ready and raring to go for dozens of pre-game events starting today.

"This is exactly what we have trained for for the last couple years since we were selected as the host for this game," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said at a news conference earlier this week. "There is nobody in the country that does these big events better than Tampa."

But with big events comes big crowds, and the potential for big headaches.

While almost 66,000 people are expected to pack Raymond  James Stadium for Monday night's game, event organizers expect between 70,000 and 100,000 to flock to downtown Tampa for three days worth of concerts at Curtis Hixon Park and Playoff Fan Central at the Tampa Convention Center, along with other events.

Buckhorn urged them to be patient, adding that there are alternatives to driving themselves.

"Streetcar's running, there'll be Uber and Lyft designated pickups, the In-Towner will be running, the new shuttle that we've introduced will be running, everything that we have that can roll will be running," Buckhorn said.

One thing that will not be running - at least on Saturday - will be the Cross Bay Ferry between Tampa and St. Petersburg. It's shut down due to limited dock space, but will operate on a normal schedule Friday and Sunday.

Also, don't expect to park in the Poe garage near Curtis Hixon Park, as it's closed to the public.

Rob Higgins, the Executive Director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, is urging anyone going downtown or to the game to check out TampaBay2017.com before they hit the road.

"We want to make sure people allow for plenty of time to get there, but you need to use this as a resource, it's a great opportunity to be able to map out your individual game plan," he said.

In addition, Tampa Police spokesman Steve Hegarty suggests people sign up to get important information by texting CFBPlayoff to 888777.

"If there's anything that happens in terms of the schedule or anything regarding traffic or parking that we need to alert people about," Hegarty said. "We're not going to be putting out things as you would on social media, just saying 'Isn't this a great day?' That's not what that's for, that's for alerts and updates."

You can also visit WUSFNews.org throughout the weekend to get updates on traffic and parking.

With so many events taking place outside - in addition to the concerts, Clearwater Beach is hosting a pep rally Sunday - organizers are keeping a close eye on the weather.

The Bay News 9 Weather Center forecast calls for an 80 percent chance of rain Friday night into Saturday, with highs near 54 Sunday and 65 Monday.

Higgins says there are preparations in case of inclement weather.

"We have contingency plans for contingency plans," he said. "If it happens, we're going to do everything we can to make sure that everybody still has an incredible experience. Right now, we're continuing to monitor and see where it shakes, but we're cautiously optimistic that we're going to have great weather."

Credit Mark Schreiner / WUSF 89.7 News
WUSF 89.7 News
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn speaks at a press conference earlier this week detailing the city's preparations for Monday's College Football Playoff National Championship game and this weekend's pre-game events.

And in this time of terror attacks at public events throughout Europe and Asia, law enforcement officials are reminding people to speak up if they see something suspicious.

"Find a law enforcement officer that's near you and advise them of the situation and we'll do something about it," said Tampa Police Chief Eric Ward.

"We've been training for the last year specifically for this event, between tabletop exercises and practical application. We've run a thousand scenarios through, we can't plan for everything, but I can tell you now, we're as safe as we're going to get."

Ward also adds that would-be ticket buyers should not do their shopping outside Raymond James Stadium.

"I would first buy a ticket from a reputable vendor, and not on the street," he said. "I think it's very clear that once you purchase a ticket on the street, you're kind of taking those matters into your own hand."

According to Ward, uniformed and plainclothes officers will be actively looking for questionable sellers throughout the weekend.

Higgins said the best place to find seats is at the game's official web site, CollegeFootballPlayoff.com.

"There you see a couple different options, you see their Fan-to-Fan Ticket Exchange, which are verified tickets on the secondary market," he said. "That's a great resource if you're still looking to find a way into the game."

According to the web site Ticket IQ, which tracks sales on the secondary market, the average resale price for a ticket is more than $2,000. That's the highest price since the 2011 game between Auburn and Oregon in California.

As of Friday morning, prices at the game's official Ticket Exchange range from $1,112 for a single seat in Row J of the third level in the southeast corner of Raymond James to $9,023 for one in Row G of section 211, almost right at the 50 yard line behind the Clemson bench.

The relatively short distances between Tampa and both Alabama and Clemson is one of the reasons for the demand, as is the quality of last year's championship game, a 45-40 Alabama victory.

Bill Hancock, Executive Director of the College Football Playoff, is hoping for a repeat. In addition, despite of all the pageantry associated with the game, he wants Monday night to feel like a Saturday afternoon on campus.

"We want this event to be a collegiate event, we want it to have a college feel, I think everybody in the stadium will come away thinking, 'I have just been to a college football game,'" he said. "You do that with decor, you do it with marching bands and you do it with fans for both teams."

Buckhorn admits that he'll be cheering for Clemson, but it's more out of loyalty to his own alma mater.

"I'm a Penn State guy and Alabama's beat us the last couple years, so I'm going with Clemson, I've got to go with Clemson," he said, smiling. "I can't hear 'Roll Tide' one more time, it brings back bad memories."

But what he really wants is for Tampa to put on the kind of performance that will bring more major events like the College Football Playoff National Championship to the Bay area in the future.

"I think each one builds on the other - I mean it started with the (1984) Super Bowl where Tampa really stood up when no one was expecting us to, and it's gotten better and better and bigger every year that's gone by, every event that we do," Buckhorn said. "And so we are going to get more and more (events)."

"We are known around the country as a place that knows how to put these events on, where the fans have a great time, where the organizers know that the relationship is seamless between the government and the organizers, and that we know how to do it."

Kickoff between Alabama and Clemson is set for 8 p.m. Monday.

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.