The Super Bowl is The “Civic Celebration” The City Doesn't Want

A funny thing happened on the Super Bowl's way to a $5.3 million-and-counting price tag: it transformed from a corporate extravaganza for America's richest professional sports league into a “civic celebration.” At least, that's what Mayor Ed Lee's office now calls Super Bowl 50, and with the title comes some juicy perks.

For starters, it allows building owners to skirt the city's planning code. Four Embarcadero Center and the Hilton Union Square both unveiled multistory Super Bowl banner ads last week, in apparent violation of the city's ban on “general advertising.” City planners told Hoodline that the Mayor's Office approved the ads because they're temporary and because the Super Bowl is a “civic celebration.” (The Planning Department didn't respond to SF Weekly's repeated requests for comment.)

Another perk: the city will waive permit fees, as it did for some of the garish Super Bowl 50 statues currently attracting selfies and anti-Ed Lee graffiti in Alamo Square, Civic Center, the Palace of Fine Arts, and other hotspots around town.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, whose district includes Four Embarcadero Center, says he's “not happy about [the Super Bowl ads].” And he's not the only one on the board insisting that the city got a raw deal.

On Tuesday, Supervisor Jane Kim introduced emergency legislation calling for the city to renegotiate its host city agreement with the NFL and the Super Bowl Host Committee, arguing that the Super Bowl is not a “civic celebration” like Pride or Bay to Breakers.

But those whose industries stand to profit from the big game don't agree. Robert Linscheid, president and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, says the city knew from the beginning what it was getting into with a Super Bowl bid.

“We got what we asked for,” he says, adding that people “get heated because of misinformation.” The price tag, he says, repeating the Super Bowl backers' line, will be more than covered by revelers' spending in hotels and restaurants. According to him, hotels in the city are 80 percent occupied in February; this year, that figure will be closer to 100 percent, and average daily rates are spiked because of the demand.

“To look back on the bid now and complain is like playing Monday morning quarterback,” Linscheid says, excusing the pun.

Joe D'Alessandro, president and CEO of San Francisco Travel, has been to the last five Super Bowls, and says the way that San Francisco rolled out the red carpet for the NFL is much classier — and more subtle — than previous host cities.

The skyscraper ads are “decor,” he says, similar to the balloons or streamers that announce a party — and what is the Super Bowl except “a global party”?

“People complained about the Bay Bridge lights at first, too,” D'Alessandro says. “Now they're an icon.”

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