New Orleans proved it is well on its way to full recovery as it successfully hosted the high-profile 57th annual NBA All Stars at the renovated Super Dome on February 19th. However, the All Star hoops jamboree was not the only major sports event to take place that week as four days prior to the NBA game the city provided the venue for the Sugar Bowl college football championship game.
These two national events were the first two major sporting events to be staged since Katrina wreaked its devastation on the city in August 2005. Both events combined were responsible for attracting almost 150,000 out-of-town fans, providing a much-needed financial injection to local businesses.
Indeed, the impact on the economy as a result of these two events was estimated at around $400million – much needed revenue for the city that is still struggling to rebuild. Only around 65% of the pre-Katrina population has yet returned to the city and the rebuild still continues in areas almost totally destroyed by the flooding caused by the levee breach. Events like this not only help the economy, but also aid in raising the city’s profile, and helping put it back on the tourist map.
Along with the sports fans an estimated additional 40,000 visitors were in New Orleans for the weekend in mid-February, all looking for fun, entertainment and places to explore. On Friday, February 15th Louis Armstrong International Airport processed 19,000 passengers in one day – its busiest day since 2005. Owners of hotels in New Orleans estimated they had high nineties occupancies, putting a broad smile on the face of Steve Perry, chief executive officer of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Over the weekend the French quarter, which was largely unaffected by Katrina, teemed with life, and fans packed into street cars and restaurants and bars; a reminder of pre-Katrina days when Super Bowls and other national sporting events were commonplace. Indeed, the city hosted nine Super Bowls from 1970 to 2002, and four men’s basketball Final Fours from 1982 to 2003. It also staged the women’s Final Four in 2004.
Following the massive re-building program New Orleans has blossomed into a brighter, re-developed modern city with more to offer than pre-Katrina times, while still managing to retain the charm and original features of the French Quarter. Sporting facilities have been renovated and updated putting it back onto the map, and the success of the two events in mid-February means that more national events are likely.
Frequently referred to as the ‘most unique city in America’ New Orleans has also successfully staged the Mardi Gras festivals, albeit on a reduced scale, but now that it has successfully coped with the staging of two major national sporting events in one week, it looks set to rapidly return to its pre-Katrina status of one of America’s most-visited cities.