This year’s NCAA brackets had only been set for 30 minutes or so Sunday night when the phone inside the sales office at Kansas City’s The Hilton President started ringing.
Same with some other downtown hotels.
College basketball fans from states near and far had their sights on Kansas City and the second and third rounds of the NCAA tournament. Now, to get a hotel room.
As Carol Pecoraro, general manager at the Kansas City Marriott Downtown put it: “If you want to stay anywhere near the Sprint Center, you should have already made those accommodations, I think.”
Seems like just last week, hotels downtown and in other pockets of the city were saying the same thing. Oh, wait, they were.
Later this week and through the weekend, as eight teams vie to advance in the NCAA tournament, Kansas City will see its second wave of packed hotels and restaurants. Not to mention the downtown entertainment district flooded with revelers and dedicated sports fans.
Or the third wave, or the fourth wave of March Madness in Kansas City, depending on who’s counting.
First came the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association tournament. Then the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics), which is still continuing.
Last weekend’s Big 12 tournament saw record-breaking numbers at the Sprint Center.
Whatever the wave, the NCAA rounds will be big for the city.
“It’s going to be packed,” Philip Strnad, general manager of The Hilton President, said Monday afternoon. “We’re sold out from Wednesday night on.”
And that kind of traffic is just fine with the hotels.
“Were ready for ’em,” said Tom Holden, executive director of the Hotel and Lodging Association of Greater Kansas City.
Rick Hughes, president and CEO of the Kansas City Convention Visitors Association, said businesses have it all down pat by now.
“I think most of hotels and restaurant understand the magnitude of the business,” Hughes said. “They know they have to be staffed up and stocked up. They really are prepared.”
So is the Sprint Center, the focal point of all this hoopla.
Just a couple of days after serving as host for 120,000 people over the four-day run of the Big 12 Men’s Basketball Tournament, the Sprint Center had a brief half-day off before preparing for the next onslaught, the NCAA tournament.
“It’s all hands on deck,” said Shani Tate-Ross, spokeswoman at the arena.
One of the big jobs is replacing the basketball court with one specifically designed for NCAA play, she said. In addition, the arena was getting a thorough cleaning while concessionaires restocked. All 500 part-time and 68 full-time employees will be working throughout the event.
Across Grand Boulevard, Jim Watry, district manager of the KC Live area in the Power Light District, prepares all year for March tournaments, his busiest time of year. That includes hiring 65 temporary workers for restaurants and bars, making repairs and putting in new equipment, everything from a new pizza oven at Pizza Bar that doubled capacity to a new floor at McFadden’s Sports Saloon.
Luck with the weather and local fan bases added up for a great Big 12 tournament, with sales up over last year, he said.
In fact, Nick Benjamin, executive director of the Power Light District, said the crowds attracted to his venue for the Big 12 tournament and St. Patrick’s Day were the biggest in the five-year history of the entertainment district.
“The past five days are the best five days we’ve ever had,” he said.
Benjamin estimated 130,000 people visited the Kansas City Live Block and 14th Street, which was closed during the tournament, between Wednesday and Saturday. They went through 300,000 cups during the event.
It also was the debut of an expanded video screen that’s 75 percent larger than its predecessor at 14 by 19 feet, with twice the clarity.
Looking forward to this weekend, Benjamin said the return of the University of Kansas and Kansas State University for the NCAA playoff round should guarantee lots of fans again
That giddiness was contagious.
“It’s going to prove to be an exceptional time,” Hughes said. “A great week for the city.”
With the ultimate goal being a great week, also, for the people who come to root on their teams.
The yellow jackets of the Downtown Improvement District will be out in force. More than two dozen of the employees known for their bright yellow and black outfits will be helping to clean the area and offering directions to visitors, said Mark Rowlands, director of the district run by the Downtown Council.
His staff has been keeping an eye out around the perimeter of the Power Light District and Sprint Center, and running an information kiosk in the Fan Fest zone on Grand Boulevard between the two venues.
“We’ve been doing this the past few years and we’ve pretty much gotten it down,” he said. “Our guys look forward to this big event. It gives us a chance to be out on the street and help people find where to go.”
And hopefully, they’ll find their way here again, even when it’s not March.
“You hope all these people come back sometime when there’s not a basketball tournament,” said Pecoraro of the Marriott Downtown. “You always hope you get that return customer because they had a good experience.”Staff writer Joyce Smith contributed to this report.