New Orleans punctuates return with Super Bowl

Posted on: February 1 2013
"I've never seen a love fest from the national media like this week," said Stephen Perry

Jan. 31, 2013
By Roy Lang III, Gannett Louisiana

NEW ORLEANS -- Although Hurricane Katrina temporarily hampered the style of this diverse city, the Big Easy has fought back. And the sports world has been integral in the process.

The Mercedes-Benz Superdome has hosted a pair of BCS National Championship college football games since that nightmare in 2005. Add that to the host of other bowl affairs contested in New Orleans, last year's Final Four and the NFC Championship Game in the 2009 season.

There has been indoor football, college hoops, the Hornets and much more.

But this is a Super Bowl town. This marks the 10th time -- more than any other community -- the country's largest sporting event has visited the Crescent City. South Florida has been privy to 10 Super Bowls, but the last five have taken place outside the city limits of Miami.

This week, New Orleans proves it isn't just surviving after Katrina, it's thriving.

"I've never seen a love fest from the national media like this week," said Stephen Perry, the president and CEO of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Major corporations are coming through here and they are seeing Louisiana through a renewed lens."

Monday, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said: "We will beat any other city, any day, putting on an event."

While New Orleans will be the obvious and most direct benefactor from the attention and dollars cultivated during Super Bowl XLVII, the entire state will win, too.

The "economic impact" of the Super Bowl is estimated to top $430 million. In addition to the tax revenue created for "general distribution," Perry believes the state, as a whole, profits from the most valuable benefit.

"Whether it's a manufacturing plant in Monroe or Caddo-Bossier or Alexandria or St. Charles, any time Fortune 500 companies come to your state and see intelligent elected officials and see things in a positive light, that bodes well for other economic development as well -- even outside the hospitality industry."

Bill Curl, who served as the public-relations director for the Superdome for 33 years, says it took New Orleans less than a decade to retain command of the "airplane seat conversation."

"The person next to you says, 'Hi, I'm an accountant from Sheboygan,'" Curl said. "After 30 seconds of talking about Sheboygan and the accounting business, you spend the rest of the flight talking about New Orleans -- Mardi Gras, the Super Bowl, the history, the music, the food."

Curl says even the locals have come around to the importance of events such as the Super Bowl.

"There has been an evolution of the attitude," Curl said.

With the early big events, New Orleans residents would tend to complain about and blow the horn at the guy with the funny license plate driving slow and they would be mad they couldn't get into the good restaurants because they were crowded.

"Now there is an understanding," Curl said. "We're not oil anymore; we're tourism. We need those people; they can keep everybody working."

Curl says New Orleanians have even taken an additional step; one that's coincided with the development of a "wonderful ego."

"We're not afraid to tell somebody about New Orleans and say, 'Look at what we have -- the lifestyle we have. We want to tell you where the good restaurants are; even the secret ones -- things we know that (tourists) wouldn't.'"

According to Perry, the health of New Orleans directly affects the rest of Louisiana.

"Because it's the biggest city, a lot of people's impressions of Louisiana are born when they come through here," he said.

According to Perry, hospitality industry's workforce of 77,000 in New Orleans helps create the estimated $6 billion spent by visitors each year.

He says there has been more than a 50-percent increase in the number of restaurants located in New Orleans in the past six years. Over the past 28 months, Perry says New Orleans leads the nation in occupancy rate.

Sporting events have been crucial to creating and maintaining those numbers.

"Sports is intertwined with the culture of this entire state," Curl said. "It's very much a part of the fabric of what were are -- no doubt about that."

Although Perry understands "a lot of work" will be needed in sections of New Orleans such as the Lower 9th Ward for years to come, the core of downtown and business aspect of New Orleans may be in the midst of uncharted growth.

"Katrina is so far in the rear-view mirror for us," Perry said. "The economic vitality of the city is back in the way we only hoped it would be."