High Stakes in Spring Break

Local businesses are admitting that millions of rowdy, drunken college students with disposable incomes may be just what the doctor ordered to help turn around the dismal Florida economy.

After months of downturn in hotels, bars and restaurants, Miami, South Beach and Fort Lauderdale establishments are welcoming spring breakers with open arms.

"March is proving to be a really good month," Linsey Harris, general manager of the Catalina Hotel in South Beach, told the Miami Herald. "The spring breakers are definitely here."

Things at the Catalina weren't looking so great after a slow February and first week of March. "We were nervous," Harris said. But after a flood of last-minute bookings, the Catalina is nearly sold out.

Several hotels throughout the region cut prices to fill beds, and spring breakers are finding it easier to land a cheap room. At South Beach's Cavalier Hotel, rates are down 40 percent from February to about $99 a night.

"We're sold out," owner Ralph Abravaya told the Herald.

To keep the booze flowing, the hotel's bar has made steep discounts, selling specialty cocktails that sold for $9 a few weeks ago for $5. With dozens of deals offered by his competitors along Ocean Drive, Abravaya had to lower prices to compete.

"We're having to give a lot more for the money," he said. "At least I get the customers in. Maybe they'll buy some food."

But not everyone is embracing the beer-guzzling and wet t-shirt contests.

Fort Lauderdale runs an active campaign against spring break, discouraging the city's reputation as a place for college kids to party.

Broward County's tourism bureau issued a statement three weeks ago saying: 'Bad Economy or Not, Greater Fort Lauderdale Steadfastly Says 'No Thanks' to Spring Break."

But to most, money is money, no matter where it comes from. 

"If I was the mayor, I'd get on TV and say, 'Come on down,'" Don C. Meyer, a marketing consultant for local clubs and bars, told the Sun Sentinel. "Everybody is getting hurt in this economy. These kids are important to us. Look at what we've lost."

Despite their puritanical stance, revelers are flocking to Fort Lauderdale to fulfill their single-minded mission.

"We're here to drink and have a good time," Katie Kennedy, 21, a student at Eastern Kentucky University says. "But we're polite. We don't cause trouble. We don't destroy rooms."

Fort Lauderdale police haven't had any reports of girls or boys gone wild yet. "No one's going crazy," says Fort Lauderdale police spokesman Sgt. Frank Sousa.

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