Sat, Jan 14, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Canadians may make killing on Super Bowl fans


Prostitution and gambling are legal, naked ladies dance in strip clubs, and Cuban cigars are for sale in shops along the main street.

It's hard to dispute that many of the 100,000 Super Bowl fans expected in Detroit next month will visit the Canadian border city of Windsor for some sinful delight.

As the escort services, dancers and tobacconists prepare to serve thousands of mainly male fans in a few weeks, city and business leaders are looking for a chance to put a pastie over Windsor's longtime reputation as a sex-and-gaming playground.

"It would be wrong for me to deny that there is a market for that," said Gordon Orr, managing director of the local Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We do have many opportunities for that as an entertainment vehicle. We are so much more than that."

First-term Mayor Eddie Francis acknowledges that activities that are illegal in Michigan entice people across the Detroit River to his city of 208,000, but he hopes to show that Windsor is bigger than naked dancers and cigar shops.

For some, just the novelty of visiting another country while in Detroit will be a draw.

"If the hubbub brings people across the border, that's great," says Francis. "I'm confident that once they leave, they're going to be shown a tremendous experience with all the events."

City leaders tout Windsor's international flavor with fine dining, a US$24 million art museum and several family oriented Super Bowl events such as an ice festival and tailgate parties at the riverfront municipal gardens. There also is the NFL Fan Zone, a football theme park in the downtown convention center.

Windsor's downtown thoroughfares are nearly spotless, with trees and decorative lamps. Its riverfront is a linear park with scenic views of the Detroit skyline. At night, its huge casino beckons Detroit customers with neon signs and searchlights scanning the clouds.

Ray Chu, owner of La Casa del Habano, a high-end Cuban cigar franchise on Ouellette Avenue, the main retail street, said Windsor's Sin City moniker is unfair. Sitting on a leather chair in his store's smoking lounge, Chu says every other US and Canadian city, including Detroit, has businesses that are "morally challenged."

Chu, like many other business owners in Windsor, has stocked up for potential Super Bowl customers. He has thousands of Cuban cigars -- banned in the US -- on shelves in a glass-enclosed room. He's hoping that American football fans will walk a few blocks from the high-rise hotels into the retail district.

At the nearby Cheetah's strip club, dancers and a manager predicted the Super Bowl crowd would eclipse the one here for last summer's Major League Baseball All-Star game in Detroit, when men lined up out the door and onto the sidewalk to see dancers known locally as the "Windsor Ballet."

When the football fans arrive the week before the Feb. 5 game, the demographics will be helpful to adult-oriented businesses. The crowd will be largely male, with 80 percent in executive, management, professional or sales positions, according to the NFL.

Cheetah's and other clubs are hiring additional dancers to meet anticipated demand.

"We've had hundreds of calls from women from all over the world who are interested in coming to Windsor," said Renaldo Agostino, marketing director for Cheetah's and four other clubs, one of which is in Detroit.

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