Tourism Chief Hopes City Invests in French Quarter

Photo: Paul Broussard

NEW ORLEANS – New Orleans tourism exec Stephen Perry told Biz New Orleans he hopes the City will spend a small portion of its nearly $380 million in federal relief funds on infrastructure improvements to the French Quarter.

“The last time that was done was by Mayor Dutch Morial in 1983 in preparation for the World’s Fair,” said Perry, who is the president and CEO of New Orleans & Company, the destination marketing organization responsible for selling the city to visitors. “They repaired every sidewalk, replaced all the historic lighting and made it look amazing. It never looked better than that. And I’m hoping that the Mayor and the City Council will take this opportunity, when you have money to that magnitude, to do something again.”

Perry said the Quarter deserves attention because it’s a “ten billion dollar part of our economy and 100,000 jobs depend on it.” He said the infrastructure repairs would be transformative – and pay dividends as the city begins the slow process of rebuilding its tourism economy. Last month, weekend occupancy rates at downtown hotels surpassed 50% for the first time in more than a year, but experts expect it will take years before meetings, cruises and international flights all reach pre-pandemic levels. A revived French Quarter will be a big selling point.

“It will be much easier to keep it clean, to keep it safe for all of our workers, and it will help with the recovery of our economy,” said Perry.

In general, spending one-time money – like the federal pandemic aid – on big projects makes sense for several reasons.

“I know that there’s no doubt that the mayor is thinking a lot about infrastructure with this because when you’re not having to do it through bonded debt, it’s incredibly less expensive,” said Perry. “And you can get it done immediately. And we all know that there are tremendous needs at the Sewerage & Water Board with replacing outdated equipment that can be a part of a comprehensive flood and storm protection strategy. So I think the Mayor’s really looking hard at that. And I think most business groups are going to be looking there. And we certainly will.”

New Orleans & Company, which had to drastically cut staff and spending during the pandemic, didn’t receive any federal aid in 2020 and only received a small amount of help from the most recent stimulus bill, but “we’re not going to ask the Mayor for any support for us, or any support to kickstart our tourism economy,” said Perry. Instead, to make his case, he’ll be heading 80 miles north, where state leaders are deciding how to spend $3 billion in federal funds.

“The state’s two largest physical assets happen to be here,” he said. “The Superdome and the Convention Center. We’re really excited about our ability to help the state in its recovery. And we’ve begun making those pitches. We’re meeting with legislative leadership. And, look, it’s going to be a hard battle, but we’re going to do our best to make a business case that really works for the entire Louisiana economy.”

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