The organization behind the Mid-City Bayou Boogaloo festival on Bayou St. John in New Orleans wants to launch a similar festival at Slidell’s Heritage Park, founder Jared Zeller told the Slidell City Council on Tuesday, with the last weekend in March 2016 as the target date.
Lori Gomez told the council that a group of Slidell artists and business owners called the Cultural Economy Coalition has been talking for some time about starting a music festival to help local restaurants, artists and hotels. The group reached out to the Mothership Foundation, which puts on Bayou Boogaloo, because the members felt they needed additional expertise.
Zeller told the City Council that he initially thought the idea was crazy. “Why in the hell would I want to come to Slidell?” he asked.
But he said he and his board soon warmed to the idea of creating a festival on the banks of Bayou Bonfouca, seeing it as a unique opportunity. Bayou Boogaloo was started after Hurricane Katrina to help restore the quality of life in the Bayou St. John area and promote the arts.
The festival initially drew about 5,000 patrons but more recently has had crowds of 40,000 and has generated money to do projects like replanting live oaks that were damaged by Hurricane Isaac, Zeller said.
The festival boasts three music stages, a kids’ area, 30 food vendors and 80 art vendors. Artists did $100,000 in sales last year, and 98 percent come back.
“I love promoting the culture of New Orleans and southern Louisiana, and highlighting the history of life on Bayou St. John,” Zeller said, adding that the foundation wants to do something similar for Bayou Bonfouca.
“Will you do the little duckies, too?” asked Councilman Landon Cusimano, referring to the Rubber Duck Derby, which raises money for the Second Harvest Food Bank. Zeller said that is in the plans.
He said the Slidell festival would be free and would rely on sponsorships to pay the cost of a $400,000 event. Organizers want the city to agree to allow the event to use Heritage Park and to waive the fees, he said.
Council members were enthusiastic and asked if the festival could begin this year, but Zeller said it takes a full year to plan such an event.
In other business, the City Council voted to allow the mayor to sign a three-year lease for the Office of Motor Vehicles office on Lindberg Drive. That decision followed a vote last year to tack a $3 fee on to some transactions at the office, such as driver’s licenses, to provide a revenue stream. The new fees went into effect Jan. 1.
City officials have been concerned that the local office might fall victim to state budget cuts, and they are taking on the cost of rent to ensure that won’t happen.
Councilman Val Vanney, who voted against the measure, said the amount of the rent is far less than the $12,250 that the landlords charged in the past and the lower cost should make it more affordable for the state.
But City Attorney Bryan Haggerty said the decrease was the result of reducing the amount of square footage that the city will be leasing. Officials didn’t want to get involved in subleasing unused space, he said.
The proposed lease calls for the city to pay $6,618 per month or, if the fees collected fall short, whatever amount is generated. The lease calls for a review at the end of every 12 months to settle up the difference.
The building is owned by the Johnny F. Smith Testamentary Trust.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.