By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Mar 19, 2010 at 2:53 PM

March Madness is here, and the basketball action heats up in Milwaukee this week as the Bradley Center hosts the Midwest and West regional rounds of the "big dance." With fans flocking from near and far, the editorial staff at thought we'd help greet our new visitors with a week's worth of features and guides to everything that makes our city a great place to visit. It's "Welcome to Milwaukee Week" at!

If you win your March Madness office pool, you stand to take home a few bucks. But Milwaukee will make more than a little money from hosting the first two rounds of the men's basketball NCAA tournament. VISIT Milwaukee, the city's convention and visitors' bureau, conservatively estimates that the area will reap $2.2 million from this weekend of hoops.

And that doesn't even include the hotel bookings, the money spent on entertainment -- and the opportunity for the city to put its best foot forward to first-time tourists.

Dave Fantle, VISIT Milwaukee's vice president of public relations, says he expects about 20,000 tourists to converge on the city this week. That includes a sold-out Bradley Center, plus some visitors who are simply coming to support their schools.

That kind of traffic equates to 3,500 "hotel room nights," which is a nice bump for the middle of March.

"That number is really on the conservative side," says Fantle, "because it's strictly based on a convention formula, and this is a lot different than the average convention. This is an event where people have a lot of downtime."

Fantle says that downtime translates into revenue pumped into restaurants, bars and attractions. And while he can't speculate on the total amount of revenue to the city, Fantle points out that Indianapolis recently declared the economic impact of the Big Ten tournament at $8 million.

"If your team is Ohio State, and you have no interest in attending the Xavier-Minnesota game, you could be selling your tickets and being around the town spending money," says Fantle.

Joe Sorge, owner of AJ Bombers, Swig and Water Buffalo, says he's already seeing the impact of new tourists.

"So far we've spoken to visitors from all over the Midwest coming into to Milwaukee for the tournament," says Sorge. "I can't imagine how crazy it may get Downtown this weekend."

Area hotels, too, are sold out this week, which is not typical this time of the year.

"We're full on Thursday, Friday and hopefully Saturday," says Tim Smith, the general manager at InterContinental Milwaukee. "When the general tickets went on sale, out-of-town visitors, regardless of team affiliation, started buying rooms."

That happened months ago, says Smith. Up until this weekend, the only rooms he had available were blocks for the teams and their fans.

"It's very uncommon for us to be selling out in the middle of March," says Smith.

Fantle says that VISIT Milwaukee is reaching out to media in the cities with teams coming to town, and that he hopes this is an opportunity to make new tourists repeat tourists. The RFP for this tournament was awarded in 2006, and Milwaukee has had plenty of time to prepare.

"We do win a certain percentage (of these tourists) as leisure visitors," says Fantle. "The fact that they come here with maybe not the highest expectations there's usually that 'wow' factor and we win new fans on a visitor-by-visitor basis."

Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.