The floor is down and the bleachers are up with stadium lights all around.
The USS Bataan has been transformed in to a college basketball arena and will host the Navy-Marine Corps Classic this evening between the Georgetown Hoyas and Florida Gators.
“It’s been a pretty massive undertaking because your constructing a major college basketball venue on a flight deck,” says Jacksonville’s Sports and Entertainment Director Alan Verlander.
Verlander says the game was essentially reverse engineered.
“They kind of said right literally the first day I was on the job, ‘We think we may have an aircraft carrier, can you put together a major college basketball game’,” he says.
The idea behind the Classic started at the federal level. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus wanted to show Jacksonville what they can expect with the Amphibious Readiness Group which will homeport in Mayport beginning next year.The USS Bataan is a substitute for the USS Iwo Jima which will come to Jacksonville.
Verlander says they will make sure to showcase this ship and many others which will be docked this evening.Many will be strung with lights and easy to see from the Little Big Town concert taking place before the game.
About 10,000-12,000 people are expected at the concert, but only 3,500 will make it aboard for the game.And despite how close Jacksonville is to Gainesville, Verlander says this will not be an only Gator crowd.
“I really anticipate that crowd being 50/50,” he says.
And that means a great economic impact as well.Although Verlander couldn’t say yet exactly what kind of an economic impact the game will have, he says hotels have been booking up- partly helped by the Jaguars “Salute to Service” last night.
Despite that benefit, Verlander says the idea behind this entire “Week of Valor”, which this game highlights, is to honor the veterans and servicemen in Jacksonville.
“Let’s make Jacksonville the destination place for veterans for this week,” Verlander says.
And he hopes this game can become an annual event to work toward that goal.