People have been complaining for years about problems with the Mardi Gras parades in Metairie. Although the idea is not finalized, it appears that the Jefferson Parish Council is about to make major changes to them in hopes that a new route will enhance the parading experience for riders and the crowds that gather to view them.
The proposed new route, which would have most parades starting on Bonnabel Boulevard and ending at the Clearview Shopping Center — where the Family Gras celebration also would move — is not without logistical concerns in the heavily residential formation area.
The worst-case scenario, however, is this new plan doesn’t work and alterations will have to be made. (Several other options have been considered, including starting parades at Zephyr/Babycakes Stadium and traveling down Transcontinental Drive.)
If the plan is adopted, parades using the new Bonnabel-to-Clearview route in 2019 would include Excalibur (Friday, Feb. 22), the new Krewe of Kings (Sunday, Feb. 24), Centurions (Friday, March 1), Isis (Saturday, March 2), and Athena and Pandora (Sunday, March 3).
Two exceptions to the new route will likely be granted, and they both make sense.
The parade of Argus and the two truck krewes that follow it — Elks Jeffersonians and the Krewe of Jefferson — are entities unto themselves, with huge Fat Tuesday crowds that require the space the traditional route provides.
Metairie’s largest, second-oldest and arguably most successful krewe, Caesar, has earned the right to stay on the route that has worked best for it for 40 years. Caesar's pre-parade and post-parade events are already locked in for 2019, and to force the club to break contracts at this late date would not be fair.
Jefferson Parish officials have been trying to improve the quality of parades there by establishing minimum standards for the numbers of bands, riders and floats in each procession. The parish occasionally has contributed financially to a handful of parades.
The proposed route change is the latest move to address competition from New Orleans with its double- and triple-header parade nights, which attract large crowds.
Parish Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng instituted the "Rhythm on the Route" band competition in 2014. This successful program uses parish funds to underwrite cash prizes for band contests in each parade, with the money going directly to the schools, not the krewes.
The addition of the free Family Gras celebration has helped draw attendance in Jefferson, especially from tourists. In 11 years, the event has swelled hotel occupancy in Metairie for that weekend from 40 percent to 90 percent.
Some Mardi Gras insiders have suggested that all Metairie parades (except on Fat Tuesday) should roll on the first weekend, ending at the new Family Gras location where parade riders can enjoy a free after-parade party.
There’s a petition circulating to keep the traditional Metairie parade route, which was introduced in 1978, having evolved out of several different routes.
Metairie Road was the home of the Krewes of Helios and Zeus, which rolled first in 1958.
While a St. Patrick’s Day parade still enjoys that oak-lined venue, no Mardi Gras parade has traveled on Metairie Road since 1978, with the exception of the Krewe of Zeus, which staged a special 12th Night parade there on Jan. 6, 2007, to celebrate the club’s 50th anniversary.
As late as 1999, the Metairie parade calendar featured 15 parades — at least one parade daily during the 12-day season. In 2019, nine parades will roll on only six days.
Unlike New Orleans, which has a moratorium on new parades, Jefferson Parish has parade dates available.
When looking at the significant parades Metairie has lost, any effort of the Jefferson Parish Council to improve the quality of the parades should be applauded.
The Metairie parading krewes that have come and gone are Aquila (1977-2008), Atlas (1970-2013), Diana (1969-1999), Helios (1958-1977), Jason (1964-1976, 2002-2007), Mardi Gras (1975-1994), Mercury (1986-2005), Napoleon (1981-2018), Neptune (1996-1997), Rhea (1971-2011), Saturn (1984-2005), Sinbad (1990-1999), Thor (1974-2013) and Zeus (1958-2014).