Posted on: January 9 2012
City will revel in the attention as tourists spend, spend, spend...
Thursday, January 05, 2012
By Michelle Krupa, The Times-Picayune
With more than 250,000 visitors expected to descend upon New Orleans for back-to-back gridiron matchups in the coming days, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and a bevy of city, state and federal officials on Thursday urged revelers to exercise good sportsmanship and to leave plenty of time to make it through thick crowds and security checkpoints en route to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
David Grunfeld/The Times-Picayune
The crowds over the 10-period beginning with New Year's Eve, he said, are expected to deliver an economic impact of $500 million -- more than a typical Super Bowl. Meanwhile, the city will bask in national attention.
"It's our time to shine in the city of New Orleans," Landrieu said. "We're well prepared. We're well organized. We're ready to go."
The busy sports weekend begins tonight when the Hornets host the Denver Nuggets in New Orleans Arena. On Saturday night, the New Orleans Saints meet the Detroit Lions in a first-round playoff game in the Superdome, followed on Monday by college football's national championship matching the LSU Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide.
With 740 police officers deployed around the Superdome and in the French Quarter and downtown areas, Landrieu said the city is prepared to keep everyone safe. State troopers will augment the force, particularly along major thoroughfares leading into the city, Deputy Superintendent Brian Wynne of the State Police said.
New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas said his officers are prepared to prove "that we are the best police department in the history of Earth in handling crowd control."
The wave of visitors has pushed downtown hotel occupancy for the weekend to near capacity, said Mavis Early, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association.
While vacancies can still be found in outlying areas, Early estimated that the 23,000 hotel rooms located within a mile of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center have been 99.8 percent booked for about a week. As of Thursday, she said the occupancy rate at local bed-and-breakfasts stood at 98 percent.
If B&B operators receive a cancellation, they are posting availability immediately at www.bbnola.com, Early said
All told, metropolitan New Orleans has about 36,600 hotel rooms.
LSU and Alabama followers continue to inquire about rooms, but Early said she had received no reports of requests from Detroit Lions fans, who only learned Sunday that their team would be playing here.
"We always do well for the BCS game," she said. "But I would say this is phenomenal what's going on right now.
"I think it has to do with proximity and familiarity. LSU is Alabama's favorite rival, and Alabama is LSU's favorite rival. And all of them can easily get to New Orleans."
Early said tourism officials are also expecting a significant "drive-in" crowd on the day of the LSU-Alabama contest as fans arrive to soak in the atmosphere of the big event.
"For New Orleans, this is like a regional dream," she said.
The Superdome, meanwhile, is in "security lockdown mode," said Doug Thornton, senior vice president at SMG, the company that manages the stadium. Saints fans should expect typical security measures, including metal-detection wand scans and bag checks, plus prohibitions against weapons, outside food and beverages, bags larger than 12 cubic inches, large signs, noisemakers and projectiles.
The same rules apply to Monday's BCS championship, though instead of metal-detecting wands, fans -- including children -- will be subject to full-body pat-downs, Thornton said.
To manage traffic, Girod Street will remain closed until Tuesday morning, and other streets around the stadium will be restricted to one-way traffic in the hours before and after both games, Thornton said.
Meanwhile, Champions Square, the open area between the Superdome and the Hyatt Regency New Orleans, will open Saturday at 3 p.m. and Monday at 2 p.m. for fans to gather, though neither game will be shown on the giant screen inside the festival zone.
Landrieu stressed that "personal responsibility" will be the order of the weekend as throngs from opposing football teams gather in the heart of a city known worldwide for its party atmosphere.
"If people handle their personal behavior the way they're supposed to, it will be enjoyable -- or they'll visit Sheriff (Marlin) Gusman," the mayor said, referring to the de facto warden of Orleans Parish Prison.
On that note, Serpas cautioned fans not to use the city's streets as their urinal.
"They have access to bars, they have access to public restrooms in other parts of the French Quarter, and it is an incredible incivility to those around you to do such," he said.
While officers will issue a summons to anyone caught relieving themselves in public who appears as though he or she would show up in court, Serpas noted that usually such offenders are "not of their right mind, and we do have to take them into custody."