If you want to catch sight of ESPN's talking heads in person during Super Bowl week, you're going to have to battle the traffic in Tampa. But if you're content with seeing the folks who do the real work at getting those programs on the air, you need go no farther than Pinellas Park.
ESPN has booked rooms at the Radisson Hotel on Roosevelt Boulevard. But come Super Bowl week, the Radisson will no longer exist. In its place will be the Marriott Pinellas Park St. Petersburg. And the hotel itself will be at the halfway point of a $20-million expansion that will add 11,000 square feet and 51 suites to the nine-story building.
Contractors are working 24/7 to make sure the hotel is ready in time, said Housh Ghovaee of Northside Engineering, which is handling the project.
When they're finished, they will have added a conference center and have revamped the building's interior. The revamping includes $300,000 worth of lighting in the lobby to meet Marriott's standards, and a new restaurant. The restaurant will be called Roosevelt in honor of the two presidents with that name but also as a tip of the hat to the hotel's location, 12600 Roosevelt Blvd. The next stage will be construction of a tower to house the 51 new suites.
Sometime in the next couple of weeks, the Radisson signs will be taken down and the Marriott signs will go up. But they'll be shrouded until midnight on Jan. 19 so drivers passing on their way to work later that morning will see an "overnight" transformation. Days later, the ESPN crew is scheduled to arrive.
"We will have a large contingent of people down there," said Bill Hofheimer, ESPN communications director.
Hofheimer declined to provide specifics but said the network is bringing in a "few hundred people." Among that contingent will be Mike Ditka, Keyshawn Johnson, Tom Jackson, Trent Dilfer and Mike Tirico.
Accompanying them will be staff members for various television and radio shows, ESPN's Web site, its magazine and sales staff.
Some of the sales staff will stay in Orlando, where the network plans some promotional events. The rest will be in the Tampa Bay area, including downtown Tampa, Oldsmar and Pinellas Park. The stars, Hofheimer said, will be housed in Tampa near the St. Pete Times Forum. ESPN's staging area for its shows will be next door to the Forum.
ESPN will kick off a week of programing from Tampa at 6 a.m. Jan. 26 with Mike and Mike in the Morning. On Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 1, the network's Sunday NFL Countdown will originate from Tampa.
Stashing some of their employees in Pinellas Park is not as inconvenient as it might sound to those who don't understand where the city limits are. The Marriott, on Pinellas Park's northernmost boundary, is close to the interstate and about seven minutes from Hillsborough. That and its proximity to the St. Petersburg Clearwater International Airport are two reasons Anthony Menna's Pallas LLC decided to build a hotel there.
The location may be convenient, but it's kind of awkward when it comes to identifying the Marriott's location. And when it comes to identities, Pinellas Park has always had some problems.
"Usually when you say 'Pinellas Park' (to people, they) don't know where it is," Ghovaee said.
That hurts city officials who, for years, have had companies in the city claim they were in Clearwater or St. Petersburg or even Largo. The Marriott chain almost did the same thing.
"The Marriott people wanted to do Marriott Clearwater St. Petersburg, but that did not go well," Ghovaee said. The chain wanted to identify with the airport. But Menna argued with them, Ghovaee said. It took some persuading, but the chain agreed to eliminate Clearwater from the name and insert Pinellas Park.
"When we got the nod, we were so happy," Ghovaee said. "We were not sure they were going to go along with us. We prevailed."