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VOL. 116 | NO. 83 | Monday, April 29, 2002

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Fight demand crosses river boundary Fight forces Mid-South to do some fancy footwork By SUE PEASE The Daily News While the highly anticipated "rumble on the river" has raised demand through the roof for Downtown hoteliers, the need for hotel rooms also has become urgent across the river in West Memphis, Ark. The June 8 Mike Tyson-Lennox Lewis heavyweight championship fight will bring in 19,185 ticket holders into the city that weekend, plus many more tourists wanting to be near the action. "We are 100 percent booked," said Denise DuBois Taylor, public relations director for the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau about the status of hotel rooms in Memphis. And, the hotels wont just be busy during the weekend, but probably all week, she said. Not only will 20,000 ticket holders be invading the Mid-South, but the town can expect an onslaught of more people those wanting to be part of the many festivities leading up to the main event or just be nearby. Officials at MCVB conservatively estimate the number of visitors could top 40,000. Officials also said the Tonight Show will broadcast live from Memphis; MTV will be here covering the event, along with hordes of others. Some people may visit Memphis just to sneak a glimpse of the celebrities who may be checking out Beale Street and other Memphis venues. So, with hotels booked Downtown and in Tunica, Miss., the search has expanded and some people are heading across the river to find a place to stay. Deloris Jones, general manager at the Ramada Limited in West Memphis, said the 130-room hotel is not booked yet, but also said she had just hung up the phone Thursday with a caller looking to book 50 rooms. Since the fight announcement, reservations have been unusual with many people reserving many rooms, but then calling back to cancel a situation that has never happened to her before. "I dont know if its because people booked a room thinking they would get a ticket, and then (they did) not get a ticket," Jones said. Things are getting crazy, she said. "Im sure well be completely booked before the fight comes," Jones said. The hotel is charging a special event rate for that weekend, she said, that would range from $89.50 to $119.50. Many first-time visitors wouldnt think of looking to Arkansas as a place to stay, because it sounds distant, she said, but the hotel is only seven miles away and about 10 minutes from the Memphis Pyramid, where the fight will be held. Bob Cantrell, general manager at the Holiday Inn Convention Center in West Memphis, saw the same reservation phenomenon happen at his property. Many travel agents reserved blocks of rooms when the fight was announced but later released those blocks. Now with ticket sales over, he is seeing individuals call though. The 126-room hotel has a special event rate of $125 a night that weekend, he said, and currently the hotel has a "few openings." "It is being treated as a special events weekend and we expect 100 percent occupancy," Cantrell said. "It will be like a Super Bowl weekend for Memphis." While hotel rooms are becoming sparse, parking spaces might fall into the same fate. For visitors driving to the event, parking could be difficult. One of the Center City Commissions affiliate boards is the Downtown Parking Authority, which manages many of the Downtown parking garages. According to Janet Pfaff, Center City vice president of operations, there will be very little Pyramid parking for the event. "There will be virtually no public parking (at the arena)," Pfaff said. Information about Downtown parking is not available yet, Pfaff said, but a meeting is planned this week with all parking operators, so that information will be available in about two weeks. Pyramid parking will be reserved for buses and limousines. On Front Street in front of the Pyramid where limousine drivers typically park waiting for their passengers now will be used for special MATA shuttles only, according to an official at the city permits office. Calls to MATA were not returned by press time to confirm the shuttle operation. For Travis Lacy, owner of Limousine A Prestige Service, his small business of four limousines is already booked that week. He is expecting to partner with associates in Nashville, Tenn., to bring in 10 more. While business looks great for the event, Lacy is not looking forward to the crowds or the special regulations he has heard will be required for transporters. "Its going to be hard to get around," he said. Much of the information about events before the fight still is being gathered. MCVB officials said. Committees are beginning to meet to confirm events. They will have a schedule in a few weeks.

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