Following up on last week’s blog post, I got a lot of feedback from the Vieux Carre Property Owners, Resident & Associates (VCPORA), the local group whose mission is “To preserve the Vieux Carré as a national treasure, to maintain its quaint and distinctive character and to achieve in that historic, living neighborhood a quality of life which can be enjoyed by residents, fellow citizens, businesses and visitors,” as well as Quarter residents and businesses.
As a result of that blog post, I was invited to a meeting of a task force to look at Jackson Square—arguably the most historic and valuable piece of real estate in New Orleans—regarding what Quarter residents and businesses regarded as a misuse of the Square. Last week’s blog had photos of the stage that was set up overlooking the Square. I suppose they wanted the big show that preceded the season’s opening game to have a “New Orleans” feel. I watched the show and the game, and to tell you the truth, if I hadn’t known better, I wouldn’t have known where in the city the stage was set up. It could have been somewhere on Poydras Street near the Superdome (which is probably where it should have been produced in the first place). So all the trouble and expense of putting the state overlooking Jackson Square was a total waste, in my opinion.
Quarter businesses, as well as residents, weren’t notified what was happening at Jackson Square and in the pedestrian mall and along Decatur Street. Businesses in the Quarter depend on foot traffic to sustain their income. If there isn’t any foot traffic for them, there isn’t any business. Needless to say, the production in and around Jackson Square had a negative effect on Quarter businesses for several days. And of course, the residents, who are extremely sensitive to any noise in the Quarter, weren’t pleased about the massive production and sound coming from the stage.
So this task force got together to discuss a number of issues: the type, size and intensity of events that should be allowed in Jackson Square and the pedestrian mall (made up of Chartres, St. Peter, St. Ann streets) that surrounds it, and the fees and permits that should be necessary. The meeting was also set up to address other issues such as permitting artists and musicians, tarot card readers, filming and other special events and more.
The main concern, however, was the fact that the NFL paid a $5,000 fee to use Jackson Square. When queried about the low fee, a city representative said the NBA paid a similar fee several years ago, and the fee was based on that. In addition, the city reps thought that the exposure the city received as a result of the concert far outweighed the value of the fee.
I don’t quite understand why we (the city) let ourselves be used like this. I suppose if the NFL balked at a $5,000 fee to use Jackson Square, they could have moved the event somewhere else. The city would still have received the publicity, n’est çe pas? I say let the NFL pay a fee that’s concomitant with the fees paid for, let’s say, using the grounds of the White House in Washington, D.C. for a concert. I’d venture to say that fee is a probably quite a bit more than $5,000. Jackson Square is one of a kind. It’s historic, it’s a national treasure, it’s the most identifiable image of New Orleans out there. And if it is, it needs to valued as such. So if you want to disrupt it, use it, then you have to pay a substantial fee to do that.
Speaking of being used: at the meeting it was mentioned that the Mardi Gras krewes who parade during the season only pay $500 for a permit for their parade. Remember that the Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs pay at least, and usually even more than, this fee. I’ve mentioned this before and it’s something city council should consider, since they are the body that sets permit fees: raise the krewe parade permit fees—substantially. Brass bands, second lines, and Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs are just as valuable—if not more valuable—to New Orleans’ culture as Mardi Gras parades. Krewes that parade are valuable to the city because they attract visitors, but the krewes don’t pay for increased police presence, clean-up and sanitation.
Moreover, these krewes are private clubs and each member, I’d suggest, has a lot more money than your garden-variety SA&PC member, whose functions serve a larger purpose to the community than purely throwing a big party. I wonder how much each krewe member of Rex, Bacchus, Endymion, Muses, Zulu or even Tucks or the Krewe du Vieux, or any of the other krewes pay to rent (or design) the floats, pay for costumes, booze, and purchase the throws (that ironically are tossed into the street and for which the citizens of New Orleans have to pay the tab to have cleaned up (along with police). These people are affluent enough to pay these tabs, and deign to invite us to their party. I love Mardi Gras, but the fees that krewes pay to parade is ridiculously low and it’s an insult to our city as whole. No wonder the city is perpetually broke. Mardi Gras mentality, indeed!
The city council needs to raise these fees, pump it back into paying police and sanitation, and keep some in a fund that would create a revenue stream for preserving our culture. If the krewes balk, well, then I guess they just can’t parade—and they should be ashamed of themselves for letting the New Orleans public pay for what’s more fun for them than for the lowly people on the street who merely are there to catch the throws. It’s time for the krewes to ante up.
And if the city charges a national football franchise or TV network $5000 again to “rent the Square,” well, someone is selling us out, too cheaply, IMHO. That should not happen again.
In some ways, I think New Orleans has been so downtrodden in its own perception of our self-worth that it thinks that if we don’t bow down, we’ll get ignored. I disagree. Let’s charge them what we’re really worth. I thought that our motto was “Won’t bow, don’t know how.” If you want an event in our fair city, and (compared to us) you’ve got the money, then the citizens of New Orleans need to see it before we sell out. We deserve it, right?