COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Central Ohio’s largest hotel is near capacity on the eve of March Madness tip-off in Columbus, one of four cities hosting week one games of the NCAA tournament.

While games won’t start until Friday, fans are already starting to come to Columbus, checking out a city that has grown quite a bit since it last hosted the men’s tournament in 2019.

The lights are off inside Nationwide Arena right now, but this weekend, it will be the center of March Madness in Ohio.

Columbus is one of 25 cities across the country hosting men’s and women’s first- and second-round games this year, but it is the only city that’s hosting both.

The men’s tournament starts Friday with a packed slate of four games starting just after noon. The women’s tournament games start Thursday night.

Thousands of people flocking to Columbus is a great thing for hotels looking to fill rooms for the first NCAA tournament in the city since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Events like this put Columbus on the map and it’s much more than just the hotel,” said Christian Coffin with the Hilton Columbus Downtown hotel. “It’s about the entire city. We expect over $10 million of spend between fans, residents, and teams that come to town.”

Coffin opened the brand-new Hilton just months ago, one of many new hotels, restaurants, bars and other destinations for visitors.

“When the sun goes down, it’s even more amazing,” Coffin said. “The city comes alive. The Short North, the Arena District, University District are going to be hopping this weekend, and let’s not forget, it’s St. Patrick’s Day, too.”

Since Columbus last hosted March Madness, the metro area population has grown by around 100,000 people.

“As a city that’s growing and changing as rapidly as Columbus, we know that the city’s going to be even more prepared to host these events,” Coffin said.

It’s not just buildings and businesses popping up since 2019’s tournament. Fans can now enjoy adult beverages outside the arena in the Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area, or DORA, or try out some new appropriately-named cocktails.

“We have a special drink called Nothing But Net because nothing says madness quite like tequila,” Coffin said.

And it’s not just this year’s tournament people are excited for. For the second time in a decade, Columbus will be hosting the women’s Final Four in 2027.