Here's How Jefferson Leaders May Revive Carnival Parades
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — August is about as far in the calendar as one can get from Mardi Gras — either the last one or the next one.
But south Louisiana's annual late winter bacchanal is never far from the minds of boosters of Jefferson Parish, where flagging parade attendance, shrinking krewes and questions about the celebration's future have driven officials and krewe captains to consider ways to revive a once-vibrant Metairie tradition.
Uncertainty about construction schedules at Clearview Shopping Center is throwing an additional monkey wrench into plans. For years, most east bank Carnival parades have staged in the shopping center's parking lot. But the recent sale of the Sears building to the shopping center's owners and their announced plans to develop it mean that parking lot may not be available beyond this year.
It's just another headache that Parish Councilwoman Jennifer Van Vrancken and other parish leaders including President Mike Yenni, along with the krewe captains, are having to consider.
"We have been looking at different potential routes," Van Vrancken said Friday. Changing the Metairie parade route is not a new idea; krewes have been floating the idea for years. But with the changes coming to the shopping center and declining attendance, the idea has taken on a new urgency, Van Vrancken said.
Several potential route changes have been mentioned: an east-to-west route along Veterans Boulevard, one along Metairie Road and another that would originate at the Baby Cakes ballpark on Airline Drive and run along Transcontinental Drive are all in the mix. But each presents difficulties as well as benefits, Van Vrancken said, and as yet, no final route has been selected.
New routes are not the only ideas being considered.
Van Vrancken said Jefferson needs to be able to attract new parading krewes. Right now, the parish requires each parade to have at least 10 floats and eight marching bands. That's hard on new krewes, she said. New krewes may need to be given a grace period to build up to those numbers, she said.
For 2019, Jefferson Parish lost one parade when the Corps de Napoleon opted not to parade next year. But a new krewe, the Krewe of Kings, has stepped up with a planned 17-float parade, according to a review of applications for parade permits.
The Krewe of Kings plans to roll on Feb. 24, the Sunday after Family Gras, which remains a big attraction in Jefferson. Van Vrancken suggested that perhaps more parades could roll that weekend, when competition from big New Orleans parades is not as stiff as on the celebration's final weekend.
"We have strong crowds in Metairie that weekend," she said. "It's less strong the next weekend, when there are some strong parades in New Orleans," notably Endymion and Bacchus.
Other ideas include running some parades back to back so that watchers will get to see more floats and catch more throws. The parish also may consider offering some incentive for Jefferson krewes to put on a good show, something similar to Rhythm on the Route, a competition that offers cash prizes to the best marching bands in Jefferson.
No decisions on such programs have been made, Van Vrancken said.
For krewe captains, the uncertainty is frustrating.
"There's been so much indecision from parish leaders, we don't know what's going on," said Bob Carnesi, captain of Caesar, one of Jefferson's largest krewes. "Somebody's got to make some decisions one way or another."
Carnesi said most of the talk has been about the potential route changes, with several krewes favoring a route that would include Transcontinental.
Membership attrition hasn't avoided his krewe, either. This year, Caesar will have a couple of floats for its former maids, and the krewe is still considering whether to open its membership to women.
Van Vrancken said her goal is to bring Jefferson's Carnival back to what she recalls from when she was a child and used to watch the parades along Severn Avenue in Metairie with her family.
"It's something that I know adds to the quality of life," she said. "I want to see it return to a vibrance that we have struggled to maintain."
– by Faimon A. Roberts III, AP reporter