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March 16, 2012

Madness descends on Jeffersonville

Tournament games bring a boost to the region

JEFFERSONVILLE — Fans in green, red and about five different shades of blue streamed across the Clark Memorial Bridge from Jeffersonville into Louisville, to watch the opening round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament on Thursday.

The KFC Yum! Center is hosting games for the first two rounds of the tournament, for the West and South regional brackets.

Businesses on the Indiana side of the Ohio River are seeing a boost in revenues from the fans flocking in to see their teams play.

Patrick Gregory, general manager of the Sheraton Louisville Riverside in Jeffersonville, said about 100 rooms had already been booked in the hotel related to the tournament and he expects maybe another 50 to 60 visitors Thursday.

“A lot of it is last minute,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of activity today and the last couple of days.”

Gregory explained because the locations of the tournament are announced so late, the majority of the bookings are walk-ins and many of the reservations are made last minute.

He added that the draw of fans coming to the games — which are being held Thursday and Saturday — will make up about 50 percent of the hotel’s guests in the next few days.

“The YUM! [Center] has been a huge boost for us over the last year,” Gregory said.

Late Thursday morning shuttles from the hotel were beginning to run fans the mile across the river to the Yum! Center. It was easy to spot who each fan was pulling for, and where they had come from, as each was clad in their respective teams  gear.

Brigham Young University fan Jack Rose was easy to spot as he checked into the hotel Thursday morning.

He said he normally travels to see the team play, but the major draw is that his son, Dave Rose, is BYU’s head coach.

“It starts with family, but then you get into the regular ballyhoo of being a fan,” Rose said.

And as long as the team remains in the tournament, he said he will go to wherever they are playing to watch the games.

Rose added that it is his first time visiting the area and he plans to take in some of what the area has to offer tomorrow.

But like many fans, how long the stay lasts depends on what happens in the tournament.

“We’ll see how it goes from there. If we lose the game today, I’ll probably be on a flight home tomorrow evening,” Rose said. “If we don’t I will be here Saturday.”

Gregory added that for the out-of-town visitors, “we’re really trying to make them aware of the different offerings here.”

He expects the largest group of fans staying at the hotel to remain there through Saturday.

“The biggest contingent is cats fans,” Gregory said, referring to the University of Kentucky.

Other fans were confident that they would be around the entire weekend and then heading out to the host cities for the next round of games.

Marquette fan and alumnus Tom Walsh came in to see the games from Chicago said he will be in Phoenix next week for the regional semifinal games.

“Marquette, they’re going to win the National Championship in three weeks,” he said.

Walsh, and his friend Dwight Seals from Corydon, were among those walking across the Clark Memorial Bridge to the Yum! Center. Even former Murray State basketball Hall-of-Famer Lamont Sleets was rushing over the bridge to get to the opening round game for his alma mater.

Those who did not have tickets to the weekend’s games are still expected to impact the local economy.

Rocky’s Sub Pub Bar Manager Nicole Macleod said when the basketball tournament starts, it’s among the busiest days for the restaurant.

“It was very, very busy last year for the tourney,” she said. “The tournament is kind of like the kick-off to the nice summer season.”

Macleod added that the restaurant is expecting to get a lot of foot traffic before and after games along with fans from teams who are not playing at the Yum! Center.

“We’re expecting a lot of U of L fans to come in and watch the game, since they made them go play all the way out to Portland, [Ore.],” she said.

Another factor may draw even larger crowds into Rocky’s this year, along with the other restaurants and bars along Riverside Drive.

Director of Marketing for Rocky’s and Buckhead Mountain Grill Kelly Leonardo said they expect more business with the YUM! Center hosting games this year and because they are trying to draw in Buckhead’s regular customers.

“We are definitely trying to accommodate the guests that are usually a Buckhead customer,” she said. “It’s a big time for the tournament over there as well.”

The restaurant has been closed and undergoing renovations since December following a fire.

But the main draw is the proximity to the Yum! Center in downtown Louisville.

“Being so close to the YUM! Center we do expect an increase,” Leonardo said. “Obviously, with Kentucky playing close by and the Hoosiers doing well this year we expect to see an [increase] today, tomorrow and all weekend.”

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Allan Leith, and daughter, Grace, Louisville, head back after reaching the now blocked off end of the Big Four Bridge in Jeffersonville Wednesday afternoon.

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