New Orleans — Carnival season 2013 kicked off Monday with the sounds of workers constructing parade-viewing stands on the steps of Gallier Hall, while inside a brass band second lined and king cake was sliced, served and devoured.
At the same time across the city, bead stores and bakeries were already trying to meet demand for anything purple, green and gold.
“Oh, happy day,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said moments after the music died down in the old City Hall. “Today’s one of my favorite days.”
While Landrieu said he was excited about the start of the festivities, which began Sunday night before with the ride of the Phunny Phorty Phellows, he noted that this year might be a bit more of a challenge since the city will sandwich Super Bowl XLVII into the greatest free show on Earth.
Tourism officials have previously said hotel rooms already are scarce for the time frame that includes Carnival and the Super Bowl, with some seeking accommodations being told to check availability in Baton Rouge.
The marathon carnival-football amalgamation begins when the first Orleans Parish parades roll Jan. 25. They will continue until Feb. 2 and be followed the next day by the Super Bowl. Krewes will take to the street again on Feb. 6 and keep the celebration going straight through to Fat Tuesday on Feb. 12.
“It’s going to be a lot of work,” Landrieu said, adding that he’s confident the city, which is accustomed to hosting major scale national sporting events, will be able to handle the extra responsibilities. “There’s nobody in American that can do that.”
Still, the mayor urged residents to prepare for what he said could be delays thanks to the large number of visitors who will be in town for each event and an increasing number of road closures on streets and the interstate around the Superdome as the game approaches.
“There’s no way to have the good without having the bad,” Landrieu said. “And we’re about to get into what I would say will be the most difficult couple of weeks for the people of the city.”
Ongoing work to complete several beautification projects throughout the city should be completed soon, the mayor said. Meanwhile, residents are facing road work seemingly at every turn in the Central Business District, causing gridlock and frustration.
“We’re in the crunch time right now, and I think the next couple of weeks are going to be a real pain in the neck,” Landrieu said. “So I’m sorry that’s it’s going to be, but you can’t avoid that if you want to have a major event like this.”
Ultimately, though, the end result will be worth the hassle, Landrieu said.
Officials estimate the Super Bowl could infuse as much as $400 million to $500 million into the local economy. That doesn’t include the typical $300 million to $350 million Carnival brings.
“I guess the message to the people of New Orleans is be so proud,” Landrieu said. “There’s been no other city in the world that’s hosted as many other sporting events as we have, much less a city that came out of a catastrophic situation like we did,” he said
With Mardi Gras falling early this year, those who help to feed and entertain the masses said that if Monday is any indication, they are in for one busy season.
Pam Randazzo, of Manny Randazzo’s King Cakes in Metairie, said that the line at her shop was already longer than usual for being one day into Carnival and that each year cake orders, foreign and domestic, increase.
Her staff, she said, is prepared for a “fast and furious six weeks.”
At Haydel’s Bakery in Jefferson, another of the more popular king cake stores, the phone lines apparently were jammed as a busy signal greeted some callers.
Karl Carlone with Accent Annex said that the store in Metairie saw a Black Friday-like rush on its merchandise. “It’s been busier — much busier,” he said.
Noting that its just more than a month until Mardi Gras Day, the urgency is on for krewe members to find the best throws. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” he said.
Plush Appeal, a Mid-City bead and throw warehouse, was swamped when it opened. A clerk who answered the phone said everyone was too busy to talk. Asked to describe the kickoff day to the season, she had one word: “Crazy.”
Kari Dequine Harden
contributed to this report.