People, tourism and convention dollars are returning to New Orleans as efforts to rebuild the hurricane-devastated city continue. By Sandra Eagle, May/June 2008
Anticipation is running high as my flight touches down in New Orleans. As this is my first visit since the 2005 devastation of Hurricane Katrina, I’m anxious to see with my own eyes how one of my favourite cities is turning the page on such a dark memory.
This will be my first Mardi Gras, visiting the weekend before the raucous Fat Tuesday celebrations. Hotel lobbies are throbbing with excitement; heavily laden bellhops transport racks of brightly coloured ball gowns, elaborate headpieces, masks and mounds of luggage. Most of the city krewes, including Endymion, Orpheus and Zulu, are back in operation and a full schedule of parades, balls and parties are in full swing, ratcheting up the festival fever another notch or two.
One of the most poignant elements of this trip was a post-Katrina tour. Swaths of the city, particularly in the eastern parishes, have been cleared of debris, with lonely cement pads as the only testament that a building once stood there. Other buildings, empty and forlorn, are boarded up, with rescue insignia emblazoned on many front walls. The circle, divided into quadrants, conveys who searched the dwelling, the date the building was searched, how many people were found inside and if any animals were left behind. This area remains empty and forlorn, with a few brave souls returning to reclaim property and rebuild here and there.
But people, tourism and convention dollars are returning.
According to a survey conducted by the University of New Orleans Hospitality Research Center, for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau and New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, New Orleans’s visitor numbers, in 2007, increased to 7.1-million from 3.7-million in 2006. Last year, visitors spent a total of $4.8-billion, compared to $2.8-billion in 2006. Continued marketing, sales and promotion will be key to achieving pre-Katrina visitor levels of 8.5-million people per year.
The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center is back in full operation, while hotels in the French Quarter took the opportunity to renovate after Katrina. The Renaissance Pere Marquette has jazzed itself up with a $5-million renovation, the first in its history. Immediately noticeable is the ‘great room’ concept carried throughout the lobby, with scents, jazz music, set lighting and decorative accessories to enhance guests’ sense of arrival. Additionally, the ‘great room’ includes an area with books and magazines for guests and wireless Internet throughout, and is designed to be the hub of social interaction as well as a respite for guests who want to be alone outside their rooms. MiLa is the hotel’s new restaurant, led by chefs Allison Vines-Rushing and Slade Rushing. MiLa represents the marriage of the chefs’ home state cuisines – Mississippi and Louisiana – with strong emphasis on provisions sourced from regional farms. Signature dishes include cultivated Southern classics such as Oyster Rockefeller “deconstructed,” pig cheeks and langoustines, and New Orleans-style barbeque lobster. The Pere Marquette has 272 rooms on 18 floors, each floor named after one of the city’s jazz greats. The hotel features 6,676 sq. ft. of meeting space and nine meeting rooms.
Meanwhile, the New Orleans Marriott, with its premium parade coordinates right on Canal Street, has 1,300 rooms, including 54 suites. Total meeting space covers 80,000 sq. ft. The hotel boasts the largest ballroom in the state, with 27,500 sq. ft. of space that holds up to 3,600 people. The Riverview function space on the 41st floor offers spectacular views of the Mississippi River and glimpses of the French Quarter below. All public areas and meeting rooms provide wireless service.
Photo: Mitchel Osborne/NewOrleansOnline.com