SPEAKING OUT: A Proposal

We have a proposal, one that we hope whoever wins the mayoral election will consider carrying out. Let’s create a one-time event for the city called “New Orleans Open House 2009.” We envision something that will draw visitors, and the world’s news media, to revisit the city and see how far it has come since the horror of 2005.
Our choice of the year 2009 is made for several reasons. One is that four years should be sufficient time for New Orleans to develop examples of not just recovery, but improvement. Most of all, 2009 will be the 25th anniversary of New Orleans’ World’s Fair. Just as the fair hastened redevelopment of the riverfront, this event could use that riverfront as its centerpiece and encourage further revitalization.
Over the past quarter-century, the riverfront has become far more festive than it was in 1984. Woldenberg Park did not exist then; now it is the city’s most picturesque green space. The Aquarium of the Americas and Riverwalk Marketplace were still in the planning stages back then. At the river end of Canal Street stood the Rivergate, an architecturally acclaimed but little-used and outdated convention hall. On its former site, Harrah’s casino now brings nightlife and jobs to the area.
Running roughly parallel to the Riverwalk and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center alongside today’s Convention Center Boulevard, the fair gave energy and purpose to some thoroughfares, especially Fulton Street, which developed and now maintains a nightlife scene, and to old industrial buildings including the Federal Fibre Mills, which became one of the first condo conversions.
We propose using the fair’s old neighborhood as festival headquarters and as the setting for round-the-clock activities. Events, however, wouldn’t be limited to that area. Imagine spectacular performances at the restored Saenger, Orpheum and Mahalia Jackson theaters. Imagine a sailboat regatta watched from the rebuilt Southern Yacht Club; imagine tours of thoughtfully designed new neighborhoods in the Lower 9th Ward; imagine a fishing rodeo staged from Delacroix in St. Bernard Parish; imagine a Renaissance festival beneath the oaks in City Park.
For dates we propose May through October, the same as the World’s Fair’s. Those are the months when the convention activity is usually lowest, but they are most conducive to the vacationer – and that is who we want to draw. We know that the period also coincides with hurricane season, but that, too, should be part of our message: We’re not afraid of storms, and we have made improvements to make us safer.
If this proposal seems to have some of the pitfalls of the World’s Fair, which was a sentimental success but a financial flop, some differences set our plan apart. It calls for little new construction other than that which should be happening anyway. Harrah’s, for example, already has ambitious plans for creating an entertainment district on Fulton Street. And while the traveling public has lost interest in meaningless world’s fairs, the plight and cause of New Orleans generates true international interest. Create an event to show our recovery, and the world will want to see it.
We urge the winner of the mayoral election to at least establish an advisory commission to examine the feasibility of such an event. We think it can hasten redevelopment, bring people to our city and give locals confidence in the future. There might even be dancing on the levees. •

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