When the Super Bowl comes to town early next year, it may take traffic cops off Buckhead streets and put the state legislature on hold as out-of-town lawmakers struggle to find hotel rooms.
The Buckhead Community Improvement District, which hires off-duty police officers to direct commuters, is bracing for what its chairman called “horrific” traffic for the week of festivities prior to the Feb. 3 NFL football championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium downtown. Those officers likely will be on Super Bowl security duty, BCID officials say.
Meanwhile, at the Gold Dome, there is early talk of suspending the General Assembly’s session during the Super Bowl period, said state Rep. Deborah Silcox (R-Sandy Springs).
“They won’t delay the [start of the] session,” which is scheduled to begin Jan. 14, Silcox said. The early word from the legislature’s leadership, she said, was “more like a generic, ‘we may take a couple days off’ kind of thing.”
The legislature has “got the lodging to consider as well as just the issue of traffic given the proximity of the Capitol to the event sites,” said Kaleb McMichen, a spokesperson for House Speaker David Ralston. “The Super Bowl has a series of ancillary events taking place the entire week leading up to the game itself, so that adds to the considerations when it comes to traffic.”
Police and traffic
The Super Bowl police issue was raised by BCID officials at the organization’s Nov. 28 board meeting at the Tower Place skyscraper.
The public safety plus for Buckhead, officials said, was that the neighborhood’s main club and hotel district will be flooded with many more officers than usual as security for game-related events. Lenox Square mall will house a police command center, said BCID board member Robin Suggs, who manages the mall for Simon Properties.
But the downside is typically off-duty officers being pulled into service as part of the event’s massive security plan. The BCID hires such officers to direct commuters, especially out of parking garages during the 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. rush hour. BCID staffer Tony Peters said that means “we will, more than likely, not be able to have our regular police officers” for the entire work week prior to the Super Bowl, Jan. 28 through Feb. 1.
“So it’ll be a tough week,” said BCID chairman David Allman, who is also president of the real estate firm Regent Partners. He predicted traffic “will be horrific.”
Denise Starling, executive director of Livable Buckhead, works with businesses on commuting alternatives. She said that many people are unaware that the Super Bowl is a 10-day event, not just the Sunday game. Her group is calling on employers to let people work from home.
Starling said businesses should “treat it a lot like the Olympics.” The 1996 Summer Olympics, held in Atlanta, are widely remembered as a time of wide-open highways due to commuters being scared away from downtown and people leaving town to rent out their homes.
In Perimeter Center, a similar program of off-duty traffic officers is run by the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts. That program shows no sign of being affected by Super Bowl security duty, according to PCIDs government relations director Linda Johnson. However, Perimeter Connects, the PCIDs’ commuting assistance program, is advising employers to consider letting employees work from home, especially those with commutes that run through the city of Atlanta. The crunch days will be Feb. 1 and Feb. 4, the Friday before and the Monday after the game, said Johann Weber, the assistant program manager at Perimeter Connects.
Jim Sprouse, executive director of the Georgia Hotel & Lodging Association, says Atlanta hotels are filling up with Super Bowl guest bookings. That’s good news for his industry, but he said he had heard the downtown-based General Assembly session may go on hold as state lawmakers who live outside of Atlanta can’t book the hotel rooms they usually stay in.
Silcox confirmed that the issue of legislators finding “many of the hotels are booked for that week already” led to talk of taking a Super Bowl break. The issue was briefly raised, she said, during the General Assembly’s special session earlier this month to approve hurricane relief funding for south Georgia.
“I feel certain, and it was mentioned during the special session, they were going ahead and looking at the schedule and looking at a conversation about the Super Bowl,” Silcox said. “They haven’t decided anything yet.”
A full break in business is not the only option, she said. One possibility is holding appropriation hearings, which do not require the attendance of the full legislatures, so that some business is done.
Silcox noted that the legislature has moved generally to a pre-scheduled session calendar, with an adjournment date set ahead of time and long weekends made available. She said that is intended as a concession for the many lawmakers who have other jobs and especially those who live outside metro Atlanta.
McMichen, the spokesperson for Speaker Ralston’s office, said no decision will be made on how to handle Super Bowl-related “special logistical challenges” until the session calendar is set by a joint House and Senate resolution sometime after the session begins Jan. 14.
Update: This story has been updated with comments from the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts and the office of Speaker of the House David Ralston.