Essence continues to call New Orleans "home" for 4 more years

September 30 2010 | Latest News
'This is our home,' festival owner's president declares

Thursday, September 30, 2010
By Jaquetta White

The Essence Music Festival, the linchpin of summer tourism in New Orleans, will return to the city for four more years, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Essence Communications Inc. President Michelle Ebanks announced Wednesday.

The festival will continue to occupy the Superdome and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center-New Orleans on the Fourth of July weekend through 2014, said Landrieu and Ebanks, who made the announcement at City Hall flanked by state leaders and members of the hospitality community.

"The importance of the Essence Festival to our culture, our festival calendar and our economy cannot be overstated," Landrieu said. "This is a mammoth event that now has taken over the entire city."

Although Essence has been courted by other cities -- defecting once to Houston in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina -- Ebanks said New Orleans is the festival's "natural home."

"This is our home. You're not going to find food or culture or charm or hospitality any better than here," Ebanks said. "We've gone somewhere else, ever so briefly, and gained an appreciation for what that means."

Nicknamed the "party with a purpose," the three-day festival features empowerment seminars at the Convention Center during the day and concerts over three nights.

In recent years, the festival has featured performances by A-list pop, R&B and hip-hop artists, including Beyonce and Mary J. Blige. Leading authors, politicians and business leaders have participated in the seminars. In at least the past two years, the festival, which is owned by Essence Communications Inc., a division of Time Inc., has expanded its footprint in New Orleans to include more celebrity-hosted events outside the Convention Center and Superdome as well as television tie-ins. In 2008, for instance, CNN, which also is owned by Time Inc., taped a panel discussion on race in America at the festival that aired as part of the network's "Black in America" special.

Under the four-year deal, Essence will receive $1 million of support in marketing, production, rent deferrals, police, fire and sanitation through a mix of direct payments and in-kind support from several Louisiana organizations including the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism and the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Pam Breaux, secretary of the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. That is in line with what the company has received in the past four years since its last deal was negotiated, Breaux said.

Of that amount, the city of New Orleans is offering Essence $250,000 in cash and $250,000 in in-kind support services, city spokeswoman Devona Dolliole said.

"This is the same funding that was in place for 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010," Dolliole said. "There was no increase in funding."

There were about 400,000 attendees to the festival this year, according to the Landrieu administration. Since the festival started in New Orleans in 1995 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Essence magazine, it has become the bright spot in what usually is a slow time for the hospitality industry. The festival produces a $170 million economic impact, according to the city.

Landrieu also called the festival, which last year had corporate sponsorships from Ford Motor Co. and Coors Brewing Co., "critically important" because it introduces the city to corporate clientele who might not otherwise visit.

"This is a partnership that cannot be overstated," Landrieu said.