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Sporting New Orleans Bouncing Back

New Orleans proved it’s on track for a full recovery by successfully hosting the 57th annual NBA All Stars at the renovated Super Dome on Feb. 19. However, the All Star Hoops jamboree was not the only major sporting event to take place that week, as four days before the NBA game, the city provided the venue for the Sugar Bowl college football championship game. .

These two national events were the first two major sporting events to be staged since Katrina devastated the city in August 2005. The two events combined drew nearly 150,000 out-of-town fans, providing a much-needed financial injection to local businesses.

Indeed, the impact on the economy of these two events has been estimated at around 400 million dollars – much needed revenue for the city which is still struggling to rebuild itself. Only about 65% of the pre-Katrina population has yet returned to the city and reconstruction is still going on in areas almost completely destroyed by flooding caused by the levee failure. Events like this not only help the economy, but also help raise the profile of the city and put it back on the tourist map.

In addition to sports fans, around 40,000 additional visitors were in New Orleans for the mid-February weekend, all looking for fun, entertainment and places to explore. On Friday, Feb. 15, Louis Armstrong International Airport handled 19,000 passengers in one day – its busiest day since 2005. New Orleans hotel owners said they had high occupancy in the 90s, putting a wide smile on the face of Steve Perry, general manager of the Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau in New Orleans.

Over the weekend, the French Quarter, which was largely unaffected by Katrina, bustled with life, and fans crowded into streetcars, restaurants and bars; a throwback to pre-Katrina days when Super Bowls and other national sporting events were commonplace. Indeed, the city hosted nine Super Bowls from 1970 to 2002 and four Final Fours of men’s basketball from 1982 to 2003. It also hosted the Women’s Final Four in 2004.

Following the massive rebuilding program, New Orleans has blossomed into a brighter, redeveloped modern city with more to offer than the pre-Katrina era, while still managing to retain the charm and original features of the French Quarter. Sports facilities have been renovated and updated to put them back on the map, and the success of both events in mid-February means more domestic events are likely.

Frequently referred to as “America’s most unique city”, New Orleans has also successfully hosted Mardi Gras festivals, albeit on a smaller scale, but now that it has coped with the organization from two major national sporting events in a week, it looks set to quickly return to its pre-Katrina status of one of America’s most visited cities.

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