A replica of the Superdome is in the final stages of design at Mardi Gras World warehouse last week in New Orleans. The Crescent City will be hosting Mardi Gras and the Super Bowl at nearly the same time. / Bill Haber, AP
NEW ORLEANS - Call it "Super Gras."
For only the second time ever, two major events - the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras - are about to collide in this city, drawing more than 1 million visitors, 5,000 media members, 100 million viewers worldwide and a nearly $1 billion economic windfall.
Even for a city used to throwing big parties, it's a monster - and a chance for the city to show the world how far it's come since the 2005 floods during Hurricane Katrina left the city in ruins.
"It's our biggest global moment," Mayor Mitch Landrieu said.
After two years of prepping and sprucing up, New Orleans will host Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3 - right smack in the middle of its Carnival season. Carnival got rolling Jan. 25 with parades and parties and ends on Mardi Gras Day, which this year is Feb. 12.
It'll be the 10th time New Orleans hosts the Super Bowl - but only the second time the big game has landed in the middle of Carnival season. That means more people, more parties, more logistics to sort out.
For its day in the spotlight, the city expedited more than $1 billion in infrastructure projects - from new streetcar lines and repaved streets to a $356 million makeover of the airport, Landrieu said. Some 5,000 media members will also be in town documenting every bead-throw, street party and rebuilt neighborhood, he said.
"You have a city that's going to be on the world stage dramatically changed," Landrieu said.
It hasn't come easy. Moving up the first weekend of Carnival to accommodate the Super Bowl posed logistical challenges to the groups, known as "krewes," that organize the city's 35 parades leading up to Mardi Gras, said Arthur Hardy,Carnival historian and publisher of the Mardi Gras Guide.
The only other time the Super Bowl broke up Carnival was in 2002, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington forced NFL game cancellations and pushed the Super Bowl a week later, he said.
Dan Kelly, president of the Krewe of Endymion, one of the city's largest, said his group usually has 10 days to bedeck the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the Endymion Extravaganza, the krewe's big Carnival party that this year will headline singer Kelly Clarkson and host 14,500 guests.
This time, however, they'll have only 48 hours to ready the stadium, which is also the site of the Super Bowl.
"It's going to give us some sleepless nights," he said. "But the city of New Orleans needs this. We've changed a lot since 2005."
Securing hotel rooms has also been a challenge. As part of the agreement with New Orleans, the NFL blocked out 90% of the 30,000 hotel rooms in the New Orleans area, according to the Greater New Orleans Hotel & Lodging Association.The remaining rooms quickly sold out, snatched up by corporations coming to town or alert visitors.
Hotels are filling up in cities as far as Baton Rouge (80 miles away) and Biloxi (92 miles), said Stephen Perry, chief executive of the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau.
In a recent one-week span, Perry fielded a half-dozen phone calls from current and former NFL players, including one Hall of Famer, looking for a room in the city during Super Bowl weekend. He had to turn them all down.
"Every room in the region is sold out," he said. "You can't pack any more people here overnight."
But the long-term benefits to the greater New Orleans area far outweigh the lodging challenges, Perry said. Between Mardi Gras and Super Bowl, the region is expected to see a nearly $1 billion economic impact, he said. Even more valuable: the army of press that descends into the city for the game.
"It's going to be literal madness in New Orleans for three weeks straight," Perry said.
Restaurants across the city are stocking up for the influx of revelers and even putting their staff through specialized training to deal with the well-heeled corporate patrons that often attend Super Bowls.
Recruited by local tourism officials, a team from the Disney Institute visited New Orleans this week to offer local waiters, hosts and managers free "Disney customer service training," said Wendy Waren of the Louisiana Restaurant Association.
"We're known for our overwhelming hospitality," she said. "But this is more in tune of what these types of corporate fans and sponsors expect."
At the Royal House Oyster Bar in the French Quarter, executive chef Steven Young has reserved extra orders for oysters with his suppliers and is bringing in two extra oyster shuckers each day to keep up with demand. He's expecting to sell about 6,000 oysters a day during Super Bowl weekend - about three times the amount he usually sells, he said.
The staff at Royal House is used to working through the crush of Mardi Gras and other local festivals. But having the Super Bowl in town at the same time takes it to a new level, he said. "We're preparing our people for some long days," Young said.
While some locals plan to leave town to avoid the crowds, others are opting to stay and observe the once-in-a-lifetime confluence of enormous events. New Orleans shop owner Lauren Thom, 32, said she plans on hitting as many Super Bowl and Mardi Gras events as possible with her 10-year-old son, Austin, and 7-year-old twins, Parker and Madeline.
Despite the increased crowds and road closures, she wouldn't miss it for the world, she said.
"It's epic," Thom said. "These huge parties are about to collide. It's like nothing we've ever seen before."
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Read the original story: Party central: Mardi Gras, Super Bowl sweep New Orleans