Standing on one of the sand courts where a professional beach volleyball tournament is being played in his city this weekend, Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni outlined how big he could see the event growing in the future.
Maybe one day bands can perform on a stage built adjacent to the courts on the edge of Lake Pontchartrain, he said.
Perhaps, after the last championship point in a few years, the tournament can immediately transform into the scene of a full-fledged live music show, like the one that’s been held after the annual PGA Zurich Classic in Avondale.
“There’s an opportunity for us,” Yenni said. “If we can expand this and make this a ... volleyball-music festival ... at the culmination of the event ... absolutely.”
Donald Sun, the managing partner of the Association of Volleyball Professionals, which is holding the New Orleans Open in Kenner’s Laketown area through Sunday, doesn’t see why that can’t happen. He hopes the AVP will extend its existing two-year agreement to host the tournament in Kenner well beyond 2016.
All that needs to happen is for locals to show up in large numbers, watch this weekend’s matches and take advantage of the fact that general admission to the tournament is free, Sun said.
“I’m willing to invest resources — energy — to build a great event for the city,” said Sun, whose tournament counts Olympic gold medalists Kerri Walsh Jennings, Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers among the 250 or so participants, AVP support staff and family members.
“The expectation for me is that (locals) receive that in kind and also want to contribute to making this successful co-dependently.”
Yenni said the partnership Sun seeks got off to a promising start Thursday morning, when preliminary men’s and women’s doubles matches began at Coconut Beach ahead of the main action scheduled for Saturday and Sunday at courts set up just west of the Treasure Chest Casino. Heavy rain Thursday evening forced play on Friday to be canceled.
Setting up for the open cost Kenner minimally, said Yenni, whose city secured the tournament with the help of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation. It mostly required some bleachers and set-up labor from the city’s Recreation Department.
An early return: The Hilton Garden Inn next to the Pontchartrain Center on Thursday had sold almost all of its 122 rooms to people playing in, working at or simply watching the tournament. There otherwise would be plenty of vacancies at this time of year, said Amy Stettner, the hotel’s assistant general manager.
City officials are also eagerly awaiting the nationally televised, tape-delayed broadcast of the men’s and women’s finals on Tuesday evening on the NBC Sports Network, a satellite and cable channel.
Yenni spokesman Greg Buisson said the network’s camera crews planned to capture images of Kenner locales — among them Cafe du Monde, the Rivertown district and popular Latin American restaurants — and air them during the broadcast.
“It’s (worth it for) what Kenner is going to get out of it in the marketing aspect,” Yenni said.
Of course, Kenner faces the same challenge any community near New Orleans does when it hosts an event: keeping visitors from leaving for the many allures of the Crescent City.
Kenner is doing what it can to prevent that. When guests ask for food and drink recommendations, staff members at the Hilton Garden Inn are directing them to favorite local spots like Harbor Seafood & Oyster Bar on Williams Boulevard and Smitty’s Seafood on West Esplanade Avenue, Stettner said.
Guests seemed to be taking the suggestions, she said, noting that many had flown to the tournament, cabbed over from nearby Louis Armstrong International Airport and don’t have cars to get them easily to the French Quarter or other spots in New Orleans.
Meanwhile, Yenni said, Kenner distributed fliers to bars and restaurants letting them know that their patrons this weekend could include past or future Olympic champions.
The city said it encouraged businesses to consider possible specials for anyone who mentions AVP, which held men’s beach volleyball events in the New Orleans area four times between 1989 and 1999 while another organization put on three women’s competitions here in 1993-95.
Athletes, organizers and others associated with this weekend’s open would also be invited to a housewarming crawfish boil at Coconut Beach, Buisson said.
Sun said he had already been impressed with the treatment the AVP had received as things ramped up for the New Orleans Open, the first of eight stops for the AVP tour this year.
Nothing would top it off like a packed house, he said, promising that those who take a chance on the open would be glad they did.
“It’s a big sandbox, and some great players, and some (DJ) music, and some drinkin’, and some food,” Sun said. “Hopefully, we pick up a breeze, and it’s a recipe for a really good time.”