If it felt crowded on the parade route this weekend, it wasn’t just you.
City officials say hundreds of thousands of people were out on the streets for the first major weekend of Carnival parades and the festivities associated with the NBA All-Star Game.
The crowds, pegged at about 300,000, gave the weekend a feel closer to what locals associate with the second weekend of Carnival parades, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said. Hotel occupancy rates were 99 percent, compared to 79 percent for the same weekend last year.
“This is just halftime for us," Landrieu said. "We have all of next weekend to go."
Landrieu, speaking at a press conference, declared the weekend a “slam dunk.” Early estimates put the total economic impact, which includes spending at local businesses, at about $500 million, he said.
“We’re still counting, but expect it to be the strongest numbers we’ve seen in a long time,” he said.
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In a press conference replete with other basketball metaphors, Landrieu praised the city’s tourism community for grabbing the “jump ball” and securing the All-Star Game last summer after the NBA pulled out of North Carolina. The league's move came after the state's legislature passed a law banning local ordinances prohibiting discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and prohibited transgender people from using bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity.
“I think that New Orleans is the only city in America that could be prepared enough to host this game in such a short period of time,” Landrieu said.
That provided the city with an “international platform to advance our core values,” Landrieu said.
“Diversity is a strength, not a weakness,” he said.
Pelicans CEO Dennis Lauscha said NBA officials were telling him the event was one of the most successful in the history of the game.
The weekend was marred by violence in the city, including a non-fatal shooting near the Uptown parade route as the Krewe of Pygmalion rolled past.
NOPD Chief Michael Harrison praised officers for “neutralizing” that scene quickly and warned that cops were cracking down on those bringing guns to parade routes.
Police made 100 arrests over the weekend, including 12 for firearm-related offenses, Harrison said.
The weekend was supposed to showcase New Orleans to the world as it hosted the NBA All-Star …
While the festivities were going on, the clean-up after the recent EF-3 tornado in New Orleans East -- the strongest in the city's history -- continued.
The city has so far cleared about 9,000 tons of debris in New Orleans East and is working through a third and final sweep as part of a goal of getting the wreckage cleaned up in 30 days, Landrieu said.
“To do an All-Star game, to do a major disaster recovery and do the first weekend of Mardi Gras -- it’s probably the first time a city has done all that,” he said.