Houston making final preps for 2023 Men’s Final Four weekend

Houston officials say they are ready to host thousands as the NCAA Men’s Basketball championship takes place. Officials warn against drunk driving and say there will be increased law enforcement across the city.


Men’s 2023 Final Four will be hosted in Houston.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the largest city in Texas is ready to host the NCAA Men’s Final Four this week. It’s one of the first events of its size that Houston has hosted since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We may not have a Texas team (in the tournament), but we certainly have our ... Houston hospitality. Amen!” Turner said on Monday.

Local organizing committee president Holly Kesterson says the city will see a big return on its investment, with upwards of over $150 million flowing into the local economy. But there is still uncertainty just how big the payoff will be, as the city just found out over the weekend what teams it will be hosting.

“There’s so much unknown around all the way up until just [Sunday], what teams were going to be here and so forth," she said. "But we do know that New Orleans and Minneapolis, which were the two host cities before us, they both announced economic impact somewhere between $150 and $175 million.”

Kesterson said the city put their bid in to host the Final Four in 2017 and was awarded the event in 2018. She said Houston has proved that as a city it can host events like this, and the city is prepared for other large-scale sports events in the coming years, including the College Football National Championship next year, and the World Cup in 2026.

“We also have a lot of other things that fly under the radar that leave long lasting impact in our market. Things like the Read to the Final Four program, which we had 3rd graders read 60 million minutes over the last few months," she said. "And you know, the long-term effects of positive education in our market.”

Concerts and other activities have been set up throughout Houston, so even if people don’t have a ticket, they can still enjoy the big weekend.

Final Four transportation and public safety efforts

Downtown Houston will be the centerpiece of all the action off the court and city officials are urging residents to be aware of safety and transportation protocols. Many streets downtown will be blocked off, and heavy traffic is expected. HPD, the fire department, and METRO are all offering resources to help people navigate this weekend.

METRO announced last week it’s offering free rides on green, red, and purple rail lines and Sunjay Ramabhadran, Chair of the Metro Transit Authority Board, said he highly recommends taking advantage.

"As you plan to ride METRO rail, potentially leaving your hotel, your home or your car at a good distance from where you will be spending your days – it’s important to keep in mind the safety policies and restrictions that have been put forth by the NCAA."

Ramabhadran said METRO police is working with the fire department and HPD to help and enforce safety.

"This is gonna be a special weekend, it’s going to be a fun weekend, it’s a great way to showcase our city," said Samuel Pena, Chief of the Houston Fire Department. "It's going to be a busy weekend, we have two venues, the NRG and Discovery Green, and they’re both going to be very congested areas, bring your patience."

The Houston Fire Department will have first aid units on-scene, firefighters, inspectors, and emergency operation and rescue personnel in the event of an incident.

Security presence will be heavy this weekend and Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said he wants to make sure everyone goes home the same way they arrived.

"The last thing we want is somebody to be seriously hurt or killed because you didn’t celebrate responsibly."

Finner didn't specify how many police officers will be stationed during the Final Four, but he said everyone should know officers will be out there.

"We have so many officers out here and people ask well, how many you have," he said. "We never go over the numbers but hundreds, seen and unseen – you’re going to see marked units, you’re not going to see some plain clothes officers so we got it covered – even the hotels."

Drunk driving enforcement

But even if Houstonians and guests are going out to enjoy the event-filled weekend, law enforcement and local authorities are warning residents and fans to be smart, and to not drink and drive. During a presser on Monday, Finner and organizers with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) said drunk-driving related deaths increased by 6% in 2022.

A sign warning against drunk driving is outside of NRG Stadium, ahead of the NCAA Final Four.

1,100 people died on Texas roads last year because of impaired driving, according to representatives from the American Automobile Association (AAA) in Texas. Harris County also leads the nation in DWI-related deaths according to Finner.

Extra officers will be out in marked and unmarked vehicles, he added.

"If you drive impaired, you're going to stand a good chance of going to jail," he said. "So, look, let's just all be safe. Let's celebrate responsibly."

Finner asked that both Houstonians and visitors have a plan in place to avoid driving while impaired during the celebrations this weekend and early next week.

MADD's President, Tess Rowland, shared her experience after a head on crash with a suspected drunk driver.

"I've had seven surgeries, I have four very large scars, metal throughout my entire right side, and limited mobility within my arm," she said.

Rowland said drunk driving is a choice with irreversible consequences and warns that many do not realize until it happens to a friend or family member. She suggested those who plan to attend the Final Four this weekend or will drink during watch parties should plan a designated driver before the event, use a ride-share service, or use public transportation to avoid driving while impaired.

The national championship game is next Monday night at NRG Stadium.

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