National spotlight turns to Houston for 'Madness'

HOUSTON Crews are working around the clock to get Reliant Stadium ready for college basketball. At least 43,000 people are expected to attend the two-day game event, representing what the city hopes will be at least $17.5 million in spending.

It began 12 hours after the final RodeoHouston concert ended – the removal of tons of dirt and sawdust, transforming Reliant Stadium into a basketball venue. A bigger makeover has never before been attempted here.

Shea Guinn with the Harris County Sports Authority explained, "Typically the (rodeo) move out takes seven to ten days, and the move in for the NCAA tournament, they allot about two weeks. We are doing both of those in 80 hours."

It is a rush job, but on the other end is national exposure for Houston as one of the playoff cities and some 20,000 expected visitors coming in for the Friday and Sunday games.

"What will really be great is that the fans coming here because of the basketball, there's a dead time when (the teams) are not actually (playing), so they'll be out shopping," said Greg Ortale, Houston Convention Bureau CEO. "They'll be out experiencing the fun things to do in this city, eating, enjoying themselves. So it really is a great event."

Restaurants near the host hotels have been planning for the event for months. Champps Sports Grill is among them.

"Especially before, a lot of the teams will probably stop in through here to have lunch," Kim Hayden of Champps Sports Grill predicted. "A lot of the fans that don't have tickets yet to the game, or can't afford them, they'll all be here, just because it's the closest sports bar to the Galleria area. A lot of the teams, that's where they're staying."

It goes beyond the business of sports, to just plain business.

Basketball fan Don Kurl said, "I think the revenue that comes in is just as big a deal for the city as the attention that it gets."

It is a big deal, and a lot of tickets have already been sold, including some to the practices, which begin on Thursday.

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