Ante Up

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.

Jackson Square New Orleans

The real Jackson Square—not seen on September 9.

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 disagree.

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.

Who pays to clean up this crap? We do!—Photo courtesy MardiGrasUnmasked.com

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?

  • Jim Boa

    Wow… Not sure what you were watching…I knew exactly where the stage was as the river behind it was the giveaway! How much money did the NFL and NBC spend on staging aspects, talent and crew to buil this I do not know. I am sure it was a boost for the economy. It was a beautiful postcard sent from New Orleans to the world! Thanks to all involved!

  • Gris Gris Man

    I thought the whole presentation looked like it was being held in Disney World. The treatment of the local merchants was unforgivable. And using talent like Kermit and Trombone Shorty as window dressing for Dave Mathews was criminal. With the humongous wealth of musical talent in this town it was a real insult to turn to these national big names. I can think of a couple of dozen acts that would have been even more exciting and much more representative of New Orleans that weren’t busy that night. The NFL tried to morph New Orleans into their distorted vision of what we’re all about.

    And once again big entities want to use us on the cheap. New Orleans would retain everything that makes it great without the NFL. This was a rally for the NFL, not the Saints, not New Orleans, and certainly not New Orleans culture.

  • Matt

    112% agree

  • KingofClubs

    I couldn’t agree more! Yes, of course I knew wher eteh stage was when they panned or showed the area, but when showing the performers it could have been anywhere. That’s their choice I guess; but it could have been a whole lot better, more distinctly New Orleans “post card”. $5000?! Christ i paid mroe than that for a wedding band 20 years ago! Fianlly, the point that gets me the most…they couldn’t have featured New Orleans musicians? Taylor freaking Swift…REALLY?! New Orleans has no one that the NFL could have used just as or more effectively? Ridiculous. Ranting aside…it DOES pump money into the economy; there were features on New Orleans being rebuilt; adn it did encourage people to come visit a place (though Disneyed up) for a fun time.

  • Red552mimi

    I agree, I thought the disruption to the city for days was a little over the top and that is BEFORE I knew the NFL- the NFL! only paid $5000 for the use of the square- I remember when the NBA used that figure, I thought it was ridiculously low. I am not sure what impression you got of NOLA unless you have actually been there, that stage could have been anywhere- and it also infuriated me when Kermit and Troy came out 4 minutes before the end of the broadcast, along with DDBB, some SAPC dancers and Mardi Gras Indians- all introduced as “some of New Orleans finest entertainers”- like, it would have killed them to name some names????

  • melpeace

    Absolutely correct, Jan. Pay to play, people. New Orleans deservesthe money.

  • jazz lunatique

    $5000 – give me a break. If anyone can afford to pay what the square is worth, it’s the NFL.

    And the Mardi Gras krewes should be paying a lot more for their parades. If the SA & PC organizations pay a little less than $2000 for a couple cops over 4 hours, the Mardi Gras krewes need to pay for what they do, and they have the money. If they don’t, have them require less throws. $500 is a travesty, an INJUSTICE! And if they get petulant and pick up and keep their toys and stay home, oh well. I’ll miss them, but that’s more time for other parades to step in and maybe some of the more grassroots and street level revelers can do their thing. Some people miss Comus and Momus, but not many, and Mardi Gras does go on. It’s bigger than the St. Charles Krewes, though they don’t think so.

  • Krewe

    THANK YOU, JIM, AND YOU’RE WELCOME!!!!! I am one of the thousands of LOCALS who worked VERY hard and very long hours in the sun to help make this event happen—one of the thousands of LOCALS that can now pay their rent and bills this month that couldn’t afford to pay them all last month—one of the thousands of LOCALS that took the brunt of the misdirected anger and frustrations of the residents/workers/business owners of the French Quarter/Jackson Square that selfishly never took a moment to stop and think that the overwhelming majority of the people working their asses off to help make this event happen were also LOCALS, and the same people who get hired to work on Jazzfest, Essence Fest, Voodoo Fest and all the other Fests and events that New Orleans has annually.

    I love this town far too much to go into detail about the many incidents of downright disrespect and ugliness that was displayed towards the crew (stage hands, production crew, security, temp workers etc.), all I will say in a public forum is that I, and every other worker I talked to, have never seen anything like it. Let’s just say that your thank you is a welcome rarity, and we appreciate it.

  • Brian

    I agree 1000% I have been here for little over a year from Detroit. I Love this city!! So rich in so many ways, but I can rant about a lot of shit too. Who really benefited from that exposure? The TV network that’s who. The ratings for the game were the highest in years for a season kickoff. The NFL is tainted since the incident with Janet Jackson. Taylor Swift??? When did her target audience start watching football. Thats one reason why FQ business was down, her target audience came with the FAMILY. So yes Disney! The NFL put a spin on New Orleans that it is a FAMILY place???? They should have had the party at the new facility connected to the stadium if you wanted FAMILY. The angle for the NFL would have made more since. The angle that are elected officials took doesn’t! They sold out CHEAP. For the NFL to pay a meager $5,000 blows my mind, it should have been 6 figures. They have the chance to redeem them selves when they do this again next year, charge $200.000. The city of New Orleans I believe came up short. They gave it a sugar coating so to make it easy for the rest of the nation to swallow?? IF YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE A PARTY IN THE QUARTER LEAVE THE CHILDREN AT HOME, AFTER ALL IT”S THE QUARTER NOT VEGAS.That’s my buck fitty.

  • Janramsey

    No one denies that it took a whole lot of work to put this on, and it employed a lot of local people. That wasn’t the point. It’s great that you got good work for it–and you definitely deserve thanks. The point is that this event could have been held somewhere else. If the NFL (NBA, MTV, Oprah show, Today Show, etc etc) wants to use Jackson Square and surrounds, then they need to be 1) sensitive to the neighborhhod and 2) they need to pay a much higher price for the right to use the space.

  • Gofishnola

    Unfortunately there will be a lot of people who think the extent of the economic impact to the Quarter and it’s businesses was a mere $5,000. I also worked on this event an experienced downright abuse from residents and business owners. What about the increased foot traffic brought to the area? There was probably one merchant who was truly affected negatively because of the location of his business. All the rest were given every consideration to make sure people could get to their businesses – even during the actual event when there were thousands of people walking past the shops and restaurants. There are trade-offs – you get exposure on national television as well as thousands of people dumped on your doorstep, but you may have to leave for work a little earlier and walk a couple of extra blocks to get there. Certainly if one rents from the city or in such a location, you must know that there will be times when you are a little inconvenienced during special events. I have a business on Canal Street and during Endymion I can’t get anywhere near it. But it is one of the best single days of the year and I would gladly put up with that inconvenience to get that kind of business more often. And by the way, the police detail was NOT paid for by the city as they are for mardi gras parades; the police, the City EMS detail, the fire department and other city agencies who had to provide increased services were ALL paid by the event. Office space was rented in and a huge premium paid for an otherwise empty building. And, somebody obviously did feel the exposure was worth something – and like Mr. Boa said, the shots of the Square and the river were beautiful and one could certainly tell exactly where it was. And if there were merchants who said they weren’t told what was going on, they weren’t paying attention! And by the way, we got kudos from the parks department on how well we preserved the square.

  • NOLABearcat

    I’m beginning to think “New Orleanians” will complain about anybody or anything that isn’t “New Orleanian”. That’s a pretty tough outlook when tourism is, regrettably, the #1 or #2 industry in the city.

  • Nolajazz

    Why is the photo of the St. Louis Cathedral backwards?

  • krewe

    Jan, I totally agree with your #2 point, but if you would like to hear some stories from “the front lines” about your #1 point and let me clarify some things that would make your head spin, please feel free to email me— I know you are ”the press”, but I can’t/won’t/don’t want to go into it in a public forum.

  • krewe

    Whoever you are, I applaud your first two sentences especially—you were either working close to where I was OR (I fear) the “downright abuse” as you call it was rampant through all the areas we were trying to work in and not just around the stage. I can’t even bring myself to type about it here—would love to chat with you too about what you saw, email me if you want to trade stories.

  • Gofishnola

    @gmail – I’m sure we know each other since we were both on the front lines!