Ready or not, the Valley is getting its close-up. The Super Bowl provides its host cities an international stage, as thousands of members of the national media arrive.
While most will chronicle the championship game and parties, many will write about the local aesthetics, transportation and other accommodations.
Scottsdale and Phoenix are scrambling to finish upgrading their respective downtowns. Glendale is converting farmland into hotels, restaurants and shops.
Host cities often must fix, or at least camouflage, their shortcomings to impress the media and live television audiences.
Those that succeed can reap huge economic benefits by luring outside businesses and new residents. A strong performance can also earn the host future Super Bowls.
Scottsdale has spent months working on an $11 million canal landscaping project that will serve as the background for several ESPN broadcasts.
RUSH TO FINISH
“When was it finished? About an hour-and-a-half ago,” John Little, Scottsdale’s downtown development director, said with a laugh on Monday morning.
The Comfort Inn in Glendale opened Monday, and Super Bowl visitors will be its first guests. Since September, the game’s official host has added more than 1,000 hotel rooms.
“In the blink of an eye, we’ve almost quadrupled the number of rooms,” said Julie Frisoni, a spokeswoman for Glendale.
The increase is significant, but the city began with only 420 rooms last fall. The Super Bowl host committee alone requires 19,000.
Some early reviews suggest the Valley has much to prove.
“Phoenix has a reputation as being an exceptionally forgettable city, unless, of course you’re a golfer with a superhuman tolerance for heat,” a Los Angeles Times travel writer opined last week.
Scottsdale has worked for years to make its downtown memorable. Once notable mainly for American Indian jewelry, the area now boasts high-end condos, shopping, restaurants and nightclubs.
Throughout this week, ESPN, the nation’s largest sports news outlet, will be hosting shows in the middle of Scottsdale’s downtown efforts.
“They’re taking lots of shots down the canal towards the McDowell Mountains,” Little said.
Similarly, Phoenix has focused on redeveloping its long-struggling downtown. New high-rise towers have been constructed, and Arizona State University is building a full campus there.
Signs of progress are evident across Phoenix’s downtown, but much of the progress remains under construction, including an extensive light rail system.
The city has put fresh asphalt over roads damaged by construction and repainted curbs, said Sina Matthes, a Phoenix spokeswoman. For months, Phoenix worked with area businesses to improve trash removal.
Glendale faced the biggest challenge.
Besides overseeing construction of University of Phoenix Stadium, where the game will be played, Glendale had to provide visitors something to do.
In 2003, when the NFL awarded Glendale this Super Bowl, there was no stadium, no night life, just field after field of cotton plants.
Ed Beasley, Glendale’s city manager, said he and other officials toured San Diego, Houston, Detroit and Jacksonville, Fla., to see how other host cities fared.
The city set aside $7 million to improve sanitation infrastructure, repave streets, inspect construction and hire additional police officers, Beasley said.
Scaffolds still covered a number of buildings around the stadium last week. Most of the surrounding businesses opened in the past 90 days.
The Marriott Renaissance hotel, the host committee’s headquarters, checked in its first guests in September. “They’re old-timers, absolutely,” Frisoni joked.
That rapid development comes with risks.
Bill Simmons, an ESPN columnist, ridiculed Houston four years ago for its rush to open new hotels for Super Bowl week.
“You get the nagging feeling Houston wasn’t quite ready to host the Super Bowl, like they needed six more weeks to get everything together,” Simmons wrote.
Most visitors will stay at hotels in Scottsdale, Tempe and Phoenix. Many parties are outside the host city, too.
However, Marty Vanacour, an ASU public affairs professor, said just having the game is a major victory for Glendale, regardless of the reviews it receives.
Vanacour retired as Glendale’s city manager in 2002 after 17 years.
“In the beginning it was hard to convince people that you could have a business and make money west of the (Interstate 17) freeway,” Vanacour said. “Now, everybody knows that.”