Largely obscured by the coming storm that is Mardi Gras, organizers of the French Quarter Festival recently released a study showing it has the third largest economic impact among major events in New Orleans. The three-day French Quarter Festival saw its economic impact increase 44 percent from $139.6 million in 2009 to $316M last year. And no one was more surprised than the event organizers themselves. “I was totally shocked when I saw the numbers and actually questioned them,” said Marci Schramm, executive director of French Quarter Festivals Inc.
A University of New Orleans study of last year’s festival tied $316 million in spending to the three-day concert event compared with $139.6 million in 2009. Only Mardi Gras, at $468 million in 2010, and the Super Bowl, predicted to range between $350 million and $400 million in 2013 when it will be held again in New Orleans, rank higher.
The biggest reason for the 44 percent increase was the economy, said Janet Speyrer, associate dean for research at UNO’s College of Business Administration. “We were in the worst part of the recession (in 2009) and New Orleans wasn’t exempt. We had people from all over the U.S. coming here and they spent less on shopping and dining,” Speyrer said. Unlike most music festivals, French Quarter Fest is free and takes place along the Mississippi riverfront as opposed to being confined to a specific venue. Instead of spending money exclusively on food and beer vendors inside the Fairgrounds at Jazz Fest, French Quarter Fest visitors frequent bars, restaurants and shops throughout the day and night, Speyrer said.
“The Jazz Fest people go out early to get spots and stay until the big acts are over in the evening. That’s where they spend their money,” Speyrer said. “Plus you get whipped out there, so you probably aren’t going to want to go to a fine dining restaurant after, which is not the case at French Quarter Fest.”
On an average day, French Quarter Fest visitors spend $101.42 on meals, $85.98 on lodging, $36.93 on shopping, $33.31 in bars, $23.73 on entertainment, $11.60 on transportation and $7.63 on gambling. “This organization was founded for that reason, to keep this neighborhood healthy,” Schramm said. “So it’s wonderful to see all these years later that it’s spiraled into this big thing that makes the shopkeepers, restaurants and bars have a great time before they go into the lean summer months.” The only significant complaint about French Quarter Fest comes from New Orleanians who say tourists have overrun the event.
Last year, more than 54 percent of attendees were from out of town. “The good and bad of the festival is that locals have always embraced it as their own little secret. ‘We’ve got this and nobody knows about it.’ And then it gets discovered by the tourists. It becomes so good for the city and economy but then there’s a little pushback from people who say it’s too crowded,” Schramm said. To address their concerns, festival operators have added an extra day, dubbed Locals Lagniappe Day, on Thursday, April 7. The festival is also expanding its boundaries by adding a stage on Decatur Street and another major stage near the ferry landing next to the Aquarium of the Americas. Future plans include expanding Frenchmen Street and Washington Square in Faubourg Marigny and Armstrong Park on the other side of the French Quarter. “Residents and merchants on Frenchmen say, ‘All your people are parking in our neighborhood anyway so bring the festival down here,’” Schramm said.
The ability to expand, however, requires money. The annual budget of French Quarter Festivals Inc. is $2 million, which covers the costs of its three festivals and salaries for its seven employees. The organization also produces Satchmo Summerfest and Christmas New Orleans Style. “The budget some festivals have for just their T-shirts is half of the budget we have for the entire French Quarter Festival,” Schramm said. “Someone said this is how it works: If you need 10 people to do the job (Jazz Fest producer) Quint Davis will hire 20, (Voodoo Fest producer) Stephen Rehage will hire five and French Quarter Festival will find 10 volunteers.”
Despite the festival’s success, it will never stray from its core mission – providing a showcase for local artists. “We’ve only hired Louisiana musicians and we’ll never change that. Dave Matthews will never headline French Quarter Festival.”
BY: Richard A. Webster, Staff Writer
POSTED: 10:15 AM Wednesday, February 23, 2011