Metairie is taking its Mardi Gras season parades in a new direction. An optional east-to-west route on Veterans Memorial Boulevard was announced Tuesday (Dec. 4), letting krewes that choose it start their parades on Bonnabel Boulevard at Nero Street and end at Clearview Mall, where Family Gras is moving.
That flips the longstanding west-to-east route terminating at Martin Behrman Avenue, and is about a mile shorter. Combined with the relocation of Family Gras to the mall’s front parking lot, this makes for the biggest adjustment to Metairie’s Carnival in more than a quarter century.
Two factors drove the change, said Jefferson Parish Councilwoman Jennifer Van Vrancken, whose district includes the parade route and the mall. One is the growth of Family Gras, the three-day free music festival on the penultimate weekend of Carnival, from about 10,000 visitors in 2007 to more than 100,000 in 2018.
“We take for granted that it’s a wonderful music event," Van Vrancken said. "But Family Gras was actually always envisioned to support Carnival, to support our parades. It’s like the appetizer for the entrée that is the parade rolling down the street.”
The mall parking lot can accommodate about three times as many people as Family Gras' former site, in the Veterans Memorial Boulevard median just west of Causeway Boulevard. Plus the mall has on-site parking on its south side.
The other big factor, Van Vrancken said, is families who live east of Causeway Boulevard. The conventional west-to-east route meant nighttime parades didn’t reach them until 10 p.m., too late for many children. The flipped route lets them see parades earlier.
All but three krewes - Argus on Fat Tuesday, Caesar and Isis on March 2 - are expected to try the new route. Caesar on Feb. 23 will start by rolling diagonally through the Family Gras crowds before entering Veterans; Excalibur on Feb. 22 and the new Krewe of Kings on Feb. 24 will end the same way.
“This is probably one of the most important turning points for the Krewe of Excalibur - and all of Jefferson Parish - in decades as far as the captains and all of the riders can see,” Excalibur captain Missy Hildreth said.
Jefferson political officials, tourism leaders and krewe captains have been struggling to improve Carnival for 25 years, especially since the Uptown New Orleans parade route has grown more attractive in the past decade. Among the tweaks have been creating Family Gras; instituting a minimum number of floats, riders and marching bands; mandating that riders mask; and paying cash awards to the best bands.
“Change is never easy - face it,” Sheriff Joe Lopinto III said. “Our job is always to reinvent ourselves to make sure that we can ... produce a show that people want to come out to, that people feel safe to come out to.”
Van Vrancken said all floats will still be loaded at Clearview Mall. For krewes choosing the new east-to-west route, she said, riders will be bused to Bonnabel Boulevard and sheriff’s deputies will escort the floats there.
The route and Family Gras changes, she said, grew out of a year of discussions among parish officials, krewe captains and business and civic representatives. Parish President Mike Yenni thanked the captains, in particular, “for their open-mindedness. Let’s just say there were some hot conversations.”
Key dates for 2019
- Feb. 17, noon - Little Rascals children’s parade, Metairie
- Feb. 22-24 - Family Gras
- Feb. 22, 7 p.m. - Excalibur, Metairie
- Feb. 23, 11:45 a.m. - Adonis, Terrytown-Algiers
- Feb. 23, 6 p.m. - Caesar, Metairie
- Feb. 24, 5 p.m. - Kings, Metairie
- March 1, 7 p.m. - Centurions, Metairie
- March 2, 6:30 p.m. - Isis, Metairie
- March 3, 5:30 p.m. - Athena, Metairie
- March 3, 6:30 p.m. - Pandora, Metairie
- March 5, 10 a.m. - Argus, Metairie, followed by Elks Jeffersonians and Jefferson truck parades.
Watch Tuesday’s announcement of the changes:
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Drew Broach covers Jefferson Parish politics and education, plus other odds and ends, for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune. Email: email@example.com. Facebook: Drew Broach TP. Twitter: drewbroach1. Google+: Drew Broach.