SUPER BOWL SPECIAL : Viva Mexico! : Tijuana Buffs Image, Rolls Out Red Carpet for 'Greatest Party Many Will Ever See'

Times Staff Writer

A five-night street party. A Caesar salad for 3,000. An out-of-season bullfight card. An all-expenses-paid party for journalists and VIPs.

These are among the special attractions that this border city has planned for Super Bowl XXII--dubbed Super Fiesta '88 south of the border.

The Super Bowl extravaganza may be a peculiarly American event, but the party is surely flowing over to this fast-growing Mexican border city of more than 1.2 million residents. Tourism officials here have been planning events with as much zeal as their San Diego counterparts.

'A Really Good Show'

"This might be the greatest party a lot of these people will ever see," said Alfonso Bustamante Jr., president of the Tijuana Convention and Visitors Bureau, a city promotion agency funded by local business groups. "For many of them it will be their introduction to Mexico, and we want to give them a really good show."

On both sides of the border, authorities have been hyping the binational nature of the celebrations.

"It's the first truly international Super Bowl, as far as we know," said Peg Nugent, associate executive director of the San Diego Super Bowl Task Force, which is assisting San Diego authorities in preparing for the event.

In Tijuana, a city whose leaders like to boast that it is the most-visited city in the world, promoters are unabashedly seeking two positive outcomes from the week's hoopla: Tourist dollars and good publicity, which they reason will translate into more tourist dollars. Tourism remains the backbone of this city's economy, despite efforts by planners here to diversify by encouraging foreign investment into light manufacturing facilities and by seeking out other alternative industries.

Officials estimate that Tijuana--long one of the San Diego area's prime tourist attractions--stands to gain as much as $10 million in spillover business from the tens of thousands of fans, paparazzi, news people and others expected to visit.

Most major Tijuana hotels were booked solid for Super Bowl week. The 400-room Fiesta Americana Hotel is virtually sold out, a spokesman said. Many hotels, bars and other establishments are boasting of their big-screen television monitors, football specials and various other game-related enticements.

"We're ready to welcome as many guests as we can," said Raul Sanchez, general manager of the 150-room Rosarito Beach Hotel, an always-popular destination 15 miles south of downtown Tijuana.

Taking No Chances

Even if the celebration here weren't organized, there would surely be lots of visitors making the trip to Tijuana. But promoters here are taking no chances.

By week's end, the tourism bureau will have spent an estimated $100,000 to promote the city; local business groups are picking up the tab, officials said. Information booths have been stationed in major hotels in San Diego, providing guests with information on how to get to Tijuana and what attractions are available. In Tijuana, authorities have gone to extra expense to see that the city is extra clean; security has been tightened in an effort to provide a congenial atmosphere fo1914725999about Tijuana's naughty image. U.S. and Mexican authorities were scheduled to put additional people on duty at the border crossings, hopefully providing some relief for the legendary traffic jams that are the bane of all border communities.

Perhaps the most visible event specially scheduled for the general public is the shutdown of Avenida Revolucion, the city's main drag, to vehicular traffic for most of Super Bowl week. A four-block stretch of the street is open for pedestrians only nightly from about 6 until 11, creating the effect of a street fair, complete with crafts salesmen, folkloric dancers, mariachi musicians and other attractions. While officials say the street has been closed for various events in the past, this appears to be the most extensive shutdown.

On Saturday, promoters here have scheduled an out-of-season bullfight, a sure-fire attraction. Tickets for the event, which is slated for 3 p.m. at Cortijo San Jose bullring at Playas de Tijuana, are available at the bullring on fight day and at the Tijuana Convention and Visitors Bureau across the street from the cultural center in the Zona Rio area.

But while all visitors are being encouraged to make the trip, the city reserved its biggest punch for a select group: the huge press contingent and visiting dignitaries in San Diego for the big game.

VIP Party

On Wednesday, buses transported as many as 3,000 journalists and VIPs from San Diego to downtown Tijuana, where they enjoyed a 10-hour party. (A corporate sponsor agreed to pay for the bus transportation, officials said.)

Once in Tijuana, participants were taken on a short tour of the city--there were English-speaking guides on each bus--before arriving at Caliente Racetrack.

At the race track, guests were free to watch a full slate of greyhound races while downing free drinks and gorging on various regional and special dishes--including a Caesar salad prepared for 3,000 people by six chefs under the direction of Rosa Cardini, whose father, Caesar Cardini, is credited here with inventing the unique salad.

After the race track bash, visitors were returned to Avenida Revolucion, where they shopped and were guests at the jai alai games at the Fronton Palacio.

Why such a big fuss for the press? It has to do with the city's ongoing effort to obliterate its image as a center of vice and to replace it with a positive vision of a thriving center of commerce, tourism and international finance.

"We hope to show the new face of Tijuana to the international press," explained Bustamante, the tourism director. "We should benefit in the long run; it's a good long-term investment."

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