The Next Hurdle

City prepares for the return of Jazz Fest

By: Kathy Espin

Last month, during Mardi Gras, the tourism industry in New Orleans showed there is life in the old girl yet. The abbreviated eight-day event could be seen as the first few blips on the city’s heart monitor. The city is still alive but has a long way to go to a full recovery from the hurricane disaster of last fall.

The next test will be April 28-30 and May 5-7 when the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, known locally as Jazz Fest, brings back the music and culture of the beloved and devastated city.

Room-Count Rising

For Mardi Gras, the New Orleans Picayune reported that of 36,000 hotel rooms available in the area before Hurricane Katrina, only 27,000 were available but that number included 10,000 being used by evacuees and repair workers.

That’s generally good news for the hotel operators who are up and running. Andrea Thornton, director of sales and marketing at the Hotel Monteleone, said the hotel was completely sold out well in advance of Mardi Gras.

“And that’s unusual for us,” she said. “We usually have a lot of last-minute bookings.”

Like many hotels, the Monteleone is open but not running on all cylinders. The hotel’s rotating Carousel Bar, a popular New Orleans hangout, is bustling every night; the Le Cafe restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch; and the 20,000-square-feet of convention space is booked for weddings and special events. But the other two restaurants, the 16th-floor pool and the exercise room are still being prepared to reopen for Jazz Fest.

Some hotels, restaurants and other tourist facilities are taking advantage of the down time to not only repair storm damage but to attend to much-needed remodeling work that is not storm related. The New Orleans Convention and Visitor’s Bureau’s Web site gives a full listing of hotels that are open. But beware that despite what some hotels say, it’s a good idea to check the status by telephone if a client is interested in a particular restaurant or service.

Adding to the sense of renewed life in the tourist area, however, is the fact that Harrah’s Casino reopened on the first day of Mardi Gras, Feb. 17. With the help of steel-drum bands and costumed characters, company executives and local dignitaries cut the ribbon to ceremoniously reopen the casino.

Harrah’s New Orleans was spared serious flooding, and after a bit of major refurbishing, no signs of damage remain.

Jazz Fest Returns

Many businesses are closed or open limited hours because there just isn’t enough staff. Help wanted signs are posted in just about every window in the tourist area. The problem is that there is no place for employees to live. Just blocks away from the Quarter, whole neighborhoods have no utilities.

The restaurants New Orleans is famous for are struggling to get back on their feet. Many eateries are open but have cut back on hours. Clients should be advised to dine early.

“We have to close at 8 p.m.,” said a waitress at one French Quarter restaurant. “We only have enough staff for one shift, and we can’t go more than 10 or 12 hours.”

Transportation for tourists is slowly coming back on line as well. Airport shuttles to the French Quarter are up and running, and taxis are abundant. The famous New Orleans streetcars are running on the Riverfront and Canal Street, but The St. Charles line into the Garden District was badly damaged by the storm.

As the city still struggles to its feet, Jazz Fest will be the next shot in the arm. The event will feature hundreds of musicians and a host of music-industry stars taking over several stages in various locations. The signature event, the Louisiana Heritage Fair, will be held at the Fair Grounds Race Course. The Heritage Fair also features a famous Food Fair and three craft fairs.

Some of the hundreds of musical acts slated for the event include Fats Domino, Jimmy Buffett, Lionel Richie, Dave Matthews Band, Paul Simon and Bob Dylan.

The lineup and schedule are being updated regularly as new performers join in. A listing is updated daily on the Festival’s official Web site. Tickets are on sale now online and by phone. They can also be purchased in person at the Jazz Fest ticket office located at the New Orleans Arena.


New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau

New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

Tickets are also available through TicketMaster

New Orleans Arena