New Orleans will end the first quarter of 2013 on a wonderful roll. In addition to the tens of millions of dollars spent in the local economy during the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras celebrations, the city reaped bushels of positive free publicity that could not have been bought at any price.
The city’s hotels enjoyed a 100-percent sellout for the Super Bowl and a 97-percent occupancy rate for Mardi Gras. The combination of the two events was a tremendous windfall for New Orleans. Among those who are still cheering is Michael Hecht, the President and CEO of GNO Inc., the regional economic development alliance that serves the 10-parish region in Southeastern Louisiana. “You could not place a dollar value on the positive publicity that we received between Super Bowl and Mardi Gras,” says Hecht. “It was beyond counting.”
Hecht is among those who are confident that the embarrassing 30-minute fiasco when the lights went out in the Superdome during the game will not impact future New Orleans bids for Super Bowls that might be played here in the future. In fact, he feels great optimism about the city’s bid for the 2018 Super Bowl, which will be played in the 300th-anniversary year of the arrival of the French explorers who came looking for some high ground to start a settlement, build a port and locate some big cannons just in case their English or Spanish rivals came around the bend of the Mississippi River.
There is something else that Hecht has noticed, a view shared by Allan and Danae. The New Orleans Police Department has turned a corner in the fight against crime and, despite a paucity of numbers, is making a real dent in the volume of violent crime in New Orleans. Hecht – along with Allan and Danae – has noticed a decline in the crime numbers that is encouraging. What is more, there is some good detective work going on at the NOPD. Lately, when a person is posted as a “person of interest” by the NOPD, an announcement of their arrest usually follows within a day or two.
Hecht also shares the feeling we have that perhaps because he got off to a stumbling beginning, Police Chief Ronal Serpas and his colleagues have not gotten the kind of positive applause they deserve for their hard work. Allan and Danae honestly did not anticipate this. We still remember that former Chief Richard Pennington said New Orleans needed some 1,800 to 2,000 cops to put a squeeze on crime. Chief Serpas and his team are doing it most days with fewer than 1,300 cops. That is mostly because the bigger squeeze is on the city budget and New Orleans at the moment cannot afford 1,800 cops, much less 2,000. But Chief Serpas has gotten rid of what he considers the dead wood and negative thinkers in the department and the residue appear to be a hard-working serious bunch who actually want to be New Orleans cops.
They are short in numbers but well-led, prideful and committed to their work. Hecht acknowledges that the NOPD still has a long way to go in the fight against crime but he thinks real progress has been made.
“The improvements in the NOPD under Chief Serpas are part of the story of the resilient comeback of the city after Hurricane Katrina,” says Hecht. “We knew after the storm that public education had to be improved and right now you can go to a dozen public schools in New Orleans where the students scored As or Bs in the state tests. The fight against crime is making progress.
“We have just demonstrated at the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras there is no better place in America to stage big events than New Orleans,” he continued. “We have seen young people flock to New Orleans in the last eight years to begin new businesses. Our deposits of natural gas and oil are attracting industry in big numbers. The energy-related plants along the Mississippi River are being expanded. We have a chance in 2013 to make some very positive history. We certainly got off to a great start in February.”
Allan Katz spent 25 years as a political reporter and columnist at The Times-Picayune, and is now editor of the Kenner Star and host of several televsion programs, including the Louisiana Newsmaker on Cox Cable. Danae Columbus is executive producer of Louisiana Newsmaker, and has had a 30-year career in public relations, including stints at City Hall and the Dock Board. They both currently work for the Orleans Parish School Board. Among the recent candidates who have been represented by their public relations firm are City Councilwoman Stacy Head, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and council candidate Dana Kaplan.