NEW ORLEANS — Mardi Gras organizers promised Wednesday to roll out the city’s signature celebration in February despite the widespread destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina.
Tourism officials, float builders and parade hosts appeared before the City Council to insist the annual pre-Lent celebration — part family party, part Bacchanalian blowout — returns this winter.
“We have to do this,” said Councilwoman Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson. “We can’t afford to miss a beat.”
Mardi Gras organizers said about 25 groups are planning to stage their parades, about a half-dozen fewer than normal. Besides that, they offered no specifics on scaling back the celebration that culminates on Fat Tuesday, which falls on Feb. 28 next year.
Councilman Eddie Sapir suggested the city ease rules on private funding for next year’s Mardi Gras, which could pave the way for corporate sponsorships and possibly draw millions of dollars.
“No one wants Mardi Gras commercialized,” Sapir said. “But if we want to have it this year, we may need good, clean-soap sponsors for an infusion of dollars.”
Mardi Gras generates as much as $1 billion in economic activity and the celebrations draw an estimated 1 million people each year.
J. Stephen Perry, president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, said staging Mardi Gras next year — no matter the odds — will be an important step in the city’s financial recovery.
“Not only is this going to be the opening of the city in many ways, but also our economics,” he said. “A lot of those things that go to support Mardi Gras also go to support conventions.”
Naaman Stewart, vice president of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, one of the largest parade organizations, said the revelry would be important psychologically for city residents.
“Things are not normal,” Stewart said. “But bringing Mardi Gras back will help people to start normalizing things.”
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