NEW ORLEANS (AP) — After months of construction, road closures and flying dust, New Orleans is about ready to open its new streetcar line near the Superdome — just in time for the Super Bowl.
A formal opening ceremony is planned for Jan. 28, said Patrice Bell Mercadel, spokeswoman for the Regional Transit Authority. That's when teams will likely arrive and out-of-state visitors are expected to start heading to New Orleans for the Feb. 3 game.
"We've been doing test runs for weeks now, and everything is looking good," Mercadel said.
For months, crews have been working to lay streetcar tracks through one of the business district's busiest corridors to connect by trolley the French Quarter and the Superdome.
Record crowds are expected when the city hosts its 10th Super Bowl during the peak of Carnival season. The city has been preparing for months. Crews have been resurfacing streets and fixing sidewalks, lights and potholes. Trees have been planted along major thoroughfares, and the airport got a multi-million-dollar makeover.
Funding for the new streetcar line came from a $45 million federal transportation grant, but the project ran over budget and behind schedule. The New Orleans RTA pegs the total cost at about $52 million — some $7 million more than projected — after a number of delays, including the relocation of power and utilities when workers found a petrified cypress log and an old underground ice house no one knew existed.
At Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, new lighting, carpeting and furniture have been installed. Its bathrooms have been renovated, and one of its concourses has been expanded — all to the tune of more than $300 million.
Airport upgrades also include some new restaurants, among them Zatarain's Kitchen, Le Petit Bistro, Ye Olde College Inn and a branch of Dooky Chase's, a Creole favorite run by chef Leah Chase and her family.
"You're going to know you're in New Orleans when you arrive at the airport," airport spokeswoman Michelle Wilcut said.
Some in New Orleans say the millions of dollars used for Super Bowl preparations were needed in neighborhoods still rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina, but tourism officials say the improvements downtown amount to money well spent.
Stephen Perry, president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the Super Bowl will generate $300 million to $400 million in direct spending — a boon for the city's 75,000-plus hospitality industry workers and the hotels, restaurants and tourist-driven companies that employ them.
"But the benefits will go beyond that," he said. "More than a billion people will see New Orleans on their television sets, seeing all the fun things about our city. You can't pay for that kind of advertising."
Perry says upgrades such as the new streetcar line will benefit the city and its residents long after the Super Bowl. The new line runs down Loyola from the Union Passenger Terminal, where Amtrak trains and intercity buses are based, to Canal Street. It provides transportation not just for travelers but for residents working downtown, he said.
On Canal Street, travelers will be able to hop onto other streetcars and reach the nearby French Quarter, National World War II Museum, Cemetery District, oaks of Audubon Park, mansions of St. Charles Avenue and art museum, golf courses and lagoons of City Park.
MAY 20 This post by blogger CB Forgotston draws parallels between Gov. Bobby Jindal and two individuals he probably doesn't want to be aligned with: President Obama and former governor Edwin Edwards. CB says Jindal's trying to jack up the debt ceiling (an Obama play, according to CB) and buy votes from GOP leges who normally wouldn't go for that (an Edwards play, CB says).
MAY 20 Here's a post in the Baptist Message from an alumnus of Louisiana College. The author, Larry Burgess, calls on the leadership of the private school to take care of some pressing problems. Physical plant issues are critical and unaddressed, some faculty make so little they need government health care, and there is an atmosphere that does not encourage honest discussion, he writes. It's time to get things back in order, he says.
MAY 20 This post in Gambit tells of a benefit concert scheduled to raise money for the 19 people shot during a Mother's Day second line on Frenchmen Street in NOLA. Among them was Gambit blogger Deb Cotton, who spoke frequently about violence in the city and reported on the city's second line culture. Gambit's foundation, along with other NOLA non-profits, also is selling t-shirts to raise money for the victims.
MAY 20 Blogger Robert Mann is critical of the personal interest some legislators take in their work here, sharing the comments one NOLA solon made in explaining his decision to vote against a bill that would require people to stop discriminating against female workers. His wife might lose some salary, so he was going to have to vote against the equal pay bill, Conrad Appel said. Appel and everyone who heard him should have been ashamed, but they weren't, and that's what is wrong in that building, Mann argues.
MAY 20 American Press columnist Jim Beam writes about the budget again here, urging kudos for the House and its efforts to try to fix the budget as opposed to passing on a flawed and messy rubber-stamped document as it usually does. The Senate already is poo-pooing the effort, but instead Senators should be trying to find a way to improve it as well, Beam argues. He also has some predictions in here from LABI and CABL.
MAY 20 Here's a link to the photo gallery from Tulane's graduation this past weekend. Dr. John and Allen Toussaint played together and received honorary degrees. The Dalai Lama was so entranced by their performance he got up from his seat and walked across the stage to stand next to them. He even participated in a second line with his own personal, saffron-colored umbrella. To the graduates, he urged them to think about creating a peaceful, hopeful life and society.
MAY 20 This Picayune story questions the rhetoric of NOLA officials who say the city, aside from having a "murder problem," is safe. The talking points generally are that the criminals are killing each other, but everything else is OK. The police chief there says that even Lafayette is more dangerous than NOLA. But crime experts interviewed here say that NOLA's numbers indicate one of two things: either people are so used to violence they don't report it, or somebody's "fudging the numbers."
MAY 20 The Advocate's Mark Ballard writes about some of the background maneuvering that took place during the development of budget alternatives in the Legislature. From Rep. Joel Robideaux being called a "tax and spend liberal" to robo-call influence, Ballard lets us in on some of the work that happens behind the scenes but usually doesn't make it into the Advocate's daily coverage of the session.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
Is it a crime for citizens to photograph, video, or take notes of a police officer in the line of duty, or a right protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution? Locally, such activity, as witnessed recently, will at the very least result in a night spent behind bars.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.