Where's that Super Bowl Spirit?

February 2, 2009 56 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Now with the highest murder rate in the State, a lackluster downtown, and a community looking down on itself, the Mayor of Jacksonville wants to know if we can get that Super Bowl spirit back.

Photo by JON FLETCHER/The Florida Times-Union

Taking advantage of the Super Bowl:

Omaha, Nebraska

This city of 433,715 has grown outward by gobbling surrounding suburbs and inward by clearing out big, rusting chunks of its downtown and pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into arts and entertainment. Lots of cities have tried similar strategies, but Omaha had a singular advantage: strong civic leadership.

"If you don't have a growing city, you don't have much of an opportunity to grow arts and culture and that quality of life is essential for any economic development." - Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey in regards to a recent Wall Street Journal article about the city's ambitious urban renewal strategy....

Omaha's one-two punch: It swallows nearby suburbs and then taps new residents for money for downtown's cultural institutions.

Birmingham, Alabama

Mayor Larry Langford (sworn into office November 13, 2007) has promoted a 2.5 mile streetcar line to immediately be built through downtown and an overhaul of the public transportation system.  The city has indicated the $33 million streetcar line will begin construction in early November 2008.

According to Birmigham-Jefferson County Transit Authority executive director David Hill, "The mayor was very direct on it, if he wants streetcars, I'm going to put them on the street".  A deadline of 18 to 24 months for completion has been set and officials are willing to boot anyone from the team who dares to claim that it can't be done.

Houston, Texas

Mayor Lee Brown related how his thoughts drifted back to his initial campaign for mayor in 1997, when he promised voters he would get the transit agency to build a rail line to make Houston a "world-class city."

"You really get a different view of the city riding the train" Brown told the Chronicle reporter after deboarding at the University of Houston-Downtown station. "You can see all of the development taking place along Main Street. It's really a delightful ride. I'm extremely happy. A good way to end my term."

Former Houston Mayor Brown at the January 1, 2004 opening of Houston's starter light rail line.

Today, five years later, the 7.5 mile starter rail line ranks as the eleventh most traveled light rail system in the United States with a daily ridership of 39,800.  Needless to say, with the city reaping the economic benefits of transit oriented development along the path of this Super Bowl legacy project, plans have been announced for additional rail expansion throughout the sprawling city.


Detroit, Michigan

"This is the perfect complement to Campus Martius and the Hard Rock, and it's yet another example of how we are partnering to grow Detroit," - Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, in regards to the city's vision to attract an Au Bon Pain to operate a cafe in Campus Martius Park (then under construction) in 2004.

Although the Mayor would eventually end up in jail, Campus Martius Park has now become one of the most vibrant urban squares in the country in four short years, giving Downtown Detroit a huge economic boost in the process.

Jacksonville, Florida

Some of the city's business and tourism officials believe the Super Bowl's momentum boosted Jacksonville's image, but violent crime, namely murder, has been rising since the big game in February 2005.

Peyton's point resonated throughout eight paragraphs of his 29-minute budget address. He said Jacksonville needed to become a community that could look itself in the mirror, like it was during Super Bowl preparations.




Civic excitement and enthusiasm starts with visionary leadership that produces legacy projects that the public will be proud of into the distant future.  In San Deigo, officials used their first Super Bowl as an opportunity to launch the Gaslamp District. Today, over a decade later, it is the epicenter of a vibrant downtown core. 

Salt Lake City used their opportunity as host of the Winter Olympics to launch a starter light rail system.  A decade later, Salt Lake City residents enjoy access to multiple light rail and commuter rail lines. 

In Houston, despite heavy opposition from the federal and state governments, local officials constructed a 7.5 mile light rail line connecting downtown with Reliant Stadium.  Today, Houston reaps the benefit of rail-based stimulated economic growth in areas of town where there was already infrastructure in place. 

In Detroit, leaders used the Super Bowl as an opportunity to reintroduce residents to a renovated downtown with an interactive public square as the central focal point.  Today, despite the continued failures of the local auto industry, Downtown is once again a lively spot of civic activity. 

While, we failed to take advantage of our Super Bowl opportunity to push forward a similar legacy project, it is not too late to have a little vision.  If we are to regain the momentum that we had a few years ago, it will have to start with our elected officials stepping up to the plate and leading the way.