As Final Four arrives, Phoenix Mayor Stanton relishes ‘opportunity to be the best host city’ in US

The underside of the scoreboard displays a March Madness bracket complete with a picture of Final Four trophy on March 24, 2017 in Glendale. (Photo by Blake Benard/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX — From the Super Bowl to the College Football Playoff, the city of Phoenix is no stranger to helping host major sporting events.

Now, as tens of thousands of fans flock to the Valley for this weekend’s NCAA Final Four, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said the city will lean on its prior experience to help with the logistics of hosting what he called his favorite of all sporting events.

“This isn’t our first rodeo,” Stanton said at a news conference Friday. “A whole lot of work has gone into this. The preparations go back to the first day the NCAA selected Phoenix to host its first-ever Final Four. Everything from transit to traffic, public safety and even recycling have been looked into and refined to ensure a smooth, safe and fun Final Four weekend.”

The basketball will take place in Glendale at University of Phoenix Stadium, with the national semifinals Saturday and the title game Monday, April 3.

South Carolina will take on Gonzaga in the first semifinal Saturday before Oregon battles North Carolina later that night.

But the fun begins in Phoenix on Friday. The Final Four Fan Fest will tip off that day at the Phoenix Convention Center and run through April 3. This “indoor playground,” as Stanton called the Fan Fest, will include 24 family-friendly activities, including rock climbing, youth clinics and autograph signings by former and current Phoenix athletes: Steve Nash, Jake Lamb, Tyler Ulis and Shawn Marion, among others. Tickets are $10 at the door.

As the Fan Fest opens on Friday, so will a free, three-day March Madness Music Festival at Margaret T. Hance Park near Central Avenue and Interstate 10. The festival is headlined by Keith Urban Friday, The Chainsmokers on Saturday, and Sunday’s lineup of Aerosmith and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.

Corporate sponsors AT&T, Coca-Cola and Capital One will sponsor each night of the concerts, respectively.

In addition, Phoenix will play host to a Final Four Dribble event, in which 3,200 children will each dribble their very own NCAA basketball along a route ending at the entrance to the Fan Fest. Participants will also receive a commemorative T-shirt, although the event is already at capacity.

For all the events, a strict clear bag policy will be in place.

And with such high-profile events taking place in Phoenix, safety is the city’s number one priority. Lisa Jones, the Phoenix director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said at Friday’s press conference that everything possible is being done to ensure that all the events downtown go off without a hitch. Specifically, she mentioned increased officer training and heightened cybersecurity as just a few of the adjustments for dealing with such events.

“We’re able from draw our experience with the recent large-scale events, for example the Super Bowl in 2015 and the college football championships in 2016,” Jones said. “Really, we think we have crystallized our model of working together in our emergency operations center.”

With the Valley’s experience in hosting major sporting events, the increased security was “already built into the budget” and will not cost Phoenix taxpayers any additional money, Stanton said.

With tens of thousands of people expected to head downtown, traffic will undoubtedly be an issue. The intersection of Third and Monroe streets will be closed for the events, as well as streets surrounding the music festival at Margaret T. Hance Park.

The city will offer extended light rail hours throughout the weekend, and Phoenix will employ a special bus service to University of Phoenix Stadium that will pick up fans at the light rail station at 19th and Montebello. About 25,000 parking spaces will be available in downtown Phoenix over the weekend.

“It’s going to be a little frustrating for people who are driving downtown,” Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams said. “That’s why we’re so encouraging people to use public transit.”

While Phoenix police will lead the effort to ensure smoothness and safety during the weekend, Williams said her department will also join with Glendale and Mesa police and federal authorities for the events, something that’s been done for other major events in the Valley.

For Stanton, the Final Four is just the latest in Phoenix’s efforts to grow through sports.

“No other community has three years in a row hosted a mega-event of this size and magnitude as successfully as our city and region have done,” Stanton said. “Public safety agencies from around the country and world come to our community to see what we have done in this particular arena.

“We and the city of Phoenix relish the opportunity to be the best host city in the United States of America.”

(Video by Tyler Paley/Cronkite News)