Metairie —Many of the parties involved in Carnival on Jefferson Parish’s east bank agree that changes need to be made.
Some Carnival krewes are facing declining ridership that makes it harder for them to continue operating. Other krewes cite slumping crowds and a less-than-lively atmosphere along the parade route as areas of concern.
Parish officials worry that some parades have failed to maintain high standards. The issues vary, but the idea that there needs to be change is the one constant.
To help create that change, Parish Councilwoman Cynthia Lee Sheng has organized an advisory committee to examine Carnival. Sheng envisions the group developing a comprehensive plan for the event and then presenting it to the Parish Council.
After the committee’s inaugural meeting Tuesday, which featured fiery comments from some residents, it’s evident that sharp divisions remain on how to fix Carnival. However, Sheng said everyone agrees on one thing:
“The people deserve a quality parade on the streets,” Sheng said.
Quality is a word that comes up a lot when people discuss Carnival in Metairie. Parish officials regularly tout the area’s parades and Family Gras celebration as a “quality” way for families to come out and enjoy Carnival.
In fact, when Parish President John Young decided to buck other local officials and host Family Gras the same weekend as the Super Bowl, he said it was because he wanted to expose a wide audience to the quality Jefferson Parish had to offer.
But as recent fines levied by the parish show, quality has been an issue with some parades. According to a parish news release, krewes were fined for infractions such as having unmasked riders, lacking the required number of bands, excessive drinking on floats and throwing inappropriate materials to the crowds.
Turnout at the parades also can be extremely low at times, dampening the experience for float riders, said Rob DeViney, the captain of the Krewe of Argus.
Sheng said that when several krewe captains approached her last year about route and scheduling changes, she was open to the idea, but only after the proper process.
“We couldn’t even look at changing this law for this Mardi Gras season,” Sheng said. “And we have to get the right people around the table.”
For example, one of the most controversial changes being discussed is the idea of krewes such as Zeus, Hera and Argus changing their route to parade down Metairie Road instead of Veterans Boulevard. DeViney said that change would greatly improve the experience for riders, who have compared driving down the tree-lined streets to coming down St. Charles Avenue. However, that idea has been vehemently opposed by residents in the area, who worry about parking, traffic and crowds.
Others, such as the Krewe of Caesar, want to eliminate Bonnabel Boulevard from the parade route completely. They would rather extend the route further west on Veterans Boulevard to Transcontinental Drive, said Bob Carnesi, the captain of Caesar.
Another idea floating around is the concept of moving the bulk of Jefferson Parish’s parades to the Family Gras weekend to avoid competing with New Orleans for attention throughout the Carnival season.
“I think if you polled the captains you would hear different things,” Sheng said.
DeViney and Carnesi acknowledged that different krewes have different concerns, and coming up with comprehensive changes is going to involve a lot of compromise. For example, while DeViney is eyeing Metairie Road with interest, Carnesi said his group is adamantly opposed to going to that area.
“We have no desire to go down Metairie Road,” he said.
And while Carnesi would like to leave Bonnabel Boulevard, DeViney called it crucial for his parade to stay in the area.
“If we don’t move to Metairie Road, we would be opposed to skipping Bonnabel,” DeViney said.
Sheng said the committee has up to six months to figure out the main issues and determine the best course for Carnival. She’s also involved the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, firefighters, civic associations and tourism officials in the discussions because each of them has a stake in the change.
“I have the right people at the table,” Sheng said.