Get ready for a busy — and crowded — weekend in New Orleans.
Starting Friday, NBA All-Star Game festivities are slated to draw tens of thousands of people to the city, on top of the regular throngs of revelers on hand for Carnival's first big weekend of parades.
As if that's not enough, another 15,000 visitors are in town for a hardware and home improvements trade show at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, which wraps up Saturday.
Altogether, local tourism officials are expecting crowds on par with a Super Bowl weekend.
Planning for the task of managing both Carnival parades and NBA festivities began last summer, when the NBA moved its showcase game from Charlotte after the passage of a controversial North Carolina law that removed some anti-discrimination protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
The city's roughly 25,000 hotel rooms within walking distance of the Smoothie King Center, where the game will be played Sunday night, are completely booked, officials say — a projection that's more typical for the final weekend of Carnival.
"We have everybody on deck. Everybody's working for sure," said Shelly Waguespack, who owns Pat O'Brien's bar in the French Quarter.
When the city last hosted the NBA All-Star Game, in 2014, it fell ahead of Carnival, so there was no conflict. For the 2013 Super Bowl, Carnival's first weekend of parades was shifted to roll earlier.
This weekend's main NBA festivities kick off at 6 p.m. Friday with the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge, basketball's annual showcase of its top young talent, slated for 8 p.m. at the Smoothie King Center.
On Saturday, the center will host a trio of All-Star events, including the skills challenge, the three-point contest and the slam dunk competition, starting at 7 p.m.
Tourism officials have been preparing since late summer to handle the added crowds on the already-busy weekend that opens Carnival, clearing hotel space and moving other events to make room.
Across the city, hotel managers say the full lineup of events has lifted what are usually strong-but-not full bookings for Carnival's first weekend and provided two weekends at near capacity.
"Typically, the next weekend of Mardi Gras is normally stronger, but because of the NBA All-Star Game and the citywide convention, this week is just as strong," said Larry Daniels, vice president of operations for HRI Lodging, which has nearly 900 rooms in the downtown area, including the Hyatt Centric French Quarter.
The Hyatt Regency New Orleans’ 1,400 rooms are likewise booked for this weekend, according to General Manager Michael Smith, with the bulk of activity coming from convention visitors.
"This is as sweet a spot as you can be in," he said.
Even on short notice, landing the game means big money for the city. In 2014, the All-Star Game weekend generated an estimated $106 million in economic impact, including $60 million in direct spending, officials say. Still, that's a far cry from the windfall that comes with hosting a Super Bowl, which can generate an estimated $500 million.
When the city's bid came together last year, a big challenge was locking down 7,000 hotel rooms during an already-busy weekend to accommodate the league's needs. That has required relying on about 40 hotels, about four times as many as were used in 2014, when the game came with years of advance planning and no Carnival conflict.
The biggest logistical hurdles may happen Friday night and Saturday as spectators for Carnival parades on the Uptown route collide with basketball fans heading toward the arena, officials speculate.
To help ease confusion, the NBA plans to have a couple of hundred people on the streets to help visitors navigate around or through the parade route.
"There'll be a lot of fans who are not familiar with all of that insiders' knowledge about where you can cross Canal, how do you get across St. Charles, those kinds of things," said Stephen Perry, president and CEO of the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Despite the busy weekend that's on tap, game organizers are looking forward to having the city in the spotlight.
"We think that it's an asset to have Mardi Gras and the All-Star game together and a selling point that you have all of these high-profile individuals who will be in town over the same time," said Jay Cicero, CEO of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, which spearheaded the effort to land the game. "We want to celebrate everything that's New Orleans and Mardi Gras."
Though he declined to provide figures, Cicero said some aspects of hosting the game are more expensive because it falls during Carnival, while others are cheaper. Transportation and lodging, for example, are generally pricier.
The high-profile game also will put New Orleans' main attractions back in front of millions of TV viewers nationwide, giving the city valuable national exposure as images of Carnival parades and other iconic sights are periodically flashed to viewers watching the NBA coverage on TV.
"Obviously, what the city is known for is Carnival, and to be able to see it in a real and authentic way is very impactful," said Ryan Berni, a top aide to Mayor Mitch Landrieu. "People will be broadcasting from the city, talking about the city for several days."