Face-painters, stilt-walkers and clowns will soon roam Bonnabel Boulevard in Metairie as part of a planned revitalization of Jefferson Parish's annual Carnival celebration, which in recent years has drawn fewer riders and less public interest.
The entertainers will post up along the boulevard as part of a series of "pre-parade" festivities that officials hope will help lure families to the area before five parades, each of which has opted to take a new westbound route along Veterans Memorial Boulevard.
The new route upends years of tradition but is aimed at injecting new life into what is billed as a more family-friendly event than New Orleans' own celebration.
Parish President Mike Yenni announced the final tweaks to the program Wednesday, calling them the "biggest upgrade to Metairie Mardi Gras in a generation."
Some of the changes were announced before, including the new route, which will begin on Bonnabel and end at the Clearview Mall. A relocated "Family Gras" celebration will take place at the shopping center Feb. 22-24, instead of at Veterans and Causeway boulevards, and three of the parades — Excalibur, Caesar and Kings — will roll through Family Gras before the event's musical acts take the stage.
The changes have had some detractors, with some krewe captains saying they wanted to keep the old eastbound route.
In the end, five of the parish's eight Carnival parades opted for the new route: Excalibur, Kings, Centurions, Athena and Pandora. Caesar, Isis and Argus will remain on the traditional route, which begins at Clearview and ends at Martin Behrman Avenue.
The hope is that the new route will bring more families out, especially along the Bonnabel Boulevard section, which is residential. With the old route, parades often didn't reach Bonnabel until late at night, limiting the number of children who were there to watch the parade.
Also new for this year, following the all-female krewes of Athena and Pandora on March 3, a special "Ladies Night" party at Clearview will allow parade-goers to celebrate with krewe members.
Yenni and Parish Councilwoman Jennifer Van Vrancken also announced that special donation trucks will follow the parades; revelers who don't want to keep the beads they just caught can toss them into the trucks. The beads will be donated to the Arc of Greater New Orleans, which uses the reclaimed throws to help create wage-earning jobs for people with intellectual disabilities.
Van Vrancken said the changes show that parish officials are committed to making Jefferson's Mardi Gras a viable alternative to other celebrations.
"We're rebuilding, we're experimenting, we're creating something truly unique and original for our riders and residents," she said. "We want everyone to have a great time."
Some of Metairie's Carnival krewes will flip the direction they parade next year, heading west along Veterans Memorial Boulevard to a relocate…