WINDSOR, Ontario – Prostitution and gambling are legal, naked ladies dance in strip clubs and Cuban cigars are for sale in shops along the main street.
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 $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, and the national flag football championship games.
Windsor's downtown thoroughfares are nearly spotless, with street 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 U.S. 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 U.S. — on shelves in a glass-enclosed room. He's hoping that 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.
Peter Barth, owner of two Windsor strip clubs including the newly renovated "TT Bar," said he'll double the number of dancers to 50 or 60 and will be open from 11 a.m. to 5 a.m. at Super Bowl time.
Canada's 19-year-old drinking age and its bare-it-all strippers (in Michigan, total nudity isn't allowed) should be a big draw to fans, Barth said.
"Where would you rather go?" he asked.
The city's 14 licensed escort services also are prepping for the Super Bowl. Lynn Evans, manager of Border City Divas, said she'll have 20 women working shifts during the two days before the big game.
The women, she said, are hired by the hour as escorts. Prostitution is legal under Canadian law, but soliciting is not. That means deals must be made between the client and the escort, Evans said.
"I don't ask them questions about what they do in the room," she said.
When Francis took office in 2003, he joined Detroit's Super Bowl Host Committee and helped elevate its role from just hotel rooms to a destination point with official NFL events, he said.
Most of the city's 1,500-plus hotel rooms already are booked, with the rest expected to go as soon as the conference championship games are over.
Customs officials on both sides of the river will have added help on duty to get football fans through. The privately owned Ambassador Bridge and Detroit-Windsor Tunnel also will add toll takers. Buses will be screened and their passages scheduled before they get to the border crossings.
Officials say up to 700 buses could cross the river on game day.
The Convention and Visitors Bureau expects Super Bowl fans to spend more than $2.4 million in Windsor. Businesses, whether they feature sin or not, are hoping for a February cash bonanza.
Chu, who also owns a downtown convenience store, said Windsor should come to terms with its reputation and capitalize on it.
"We are what we are," he said. "The Windsorite has to accept our role in this, catering to American clientele. If that's what they want, that's why they're here."