The city of New Orleans aims to show the world just how far it has come in seven and a half years since Hurricane Katrina when Super Bowl XLVII comes to town this week.
“My hope is it can help bring some real closure here, and that the city can show what it can do,” said James Carville, the former presidential campaign strategist who is co-chairman of the city’s Super Bowl host committee. “Sometimes I wake up at night and say if this thing goes well, this can really help people put a lot of things behind ’em.”
New Orleans’ population is back to 80 percent of what it was before the region was ravaged in 2005 by the costliest natural disaster in United States history. More than 200,000 homes were destroyed, and the city saw its citizenry fall from its pre-storm total of 452,000 to 223,338.
Now it’s back up to 360,740, according to the U.S. Census.
New Orleans has been bolstered by federal government spending of almost $20 billion on public works contracts, with much of it going to rebuild levees that failed during the hurricane.
“Actually we’re the fastest growing city in America, but that is in large part because we dropped so low,” Carville said. “But the population has moved back. My description of the city is that 40 percent is actually better than it was before the storm, and 40 percent is getting better, and 20 percent is struggling.”
“I always say the Five Fs of Louisiana are faith, family, food, football and fixing flats,” Carville said. “Football is a very essential part of our culture, and hosting big events are part of our culture. We’re excited to have everybody coming back to our city.”
New Orleans knows how to throw a party, thanks to a couple of centuries of practice with the annual Mardi Gras festival. This marks the 10th time the Super Bowl has come to the Big Easy, tying it with Miami for the most in the game’s history. It’s the first New Orleans Super Bowl since 2002.
The matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens comes with plenty of historical implications.
It’s the first time two brothers will coach against each other in the NFL championship. Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers are 4-point favorites over John Harbaugh’s Ravens.
“We’re gonna have 80,422 Harbaugh stories,” Carville said. “But I was telling a friend of mine, you can’t overhype that. Two brothers coaching against each other in the Super Bowl? That’s just a big story. I’m sorry, it just is.”
San Francisco, which is 5-0 in the Super Bowl and last won in 1995, can join Pittsburgh as the only six-time Lombardi Trophy winner. The Ravens are seeking their second Super Bowl title, to go with their victory in the 2000 season. The city of Baltimore also claimed a Super Bowl in the 1971 season, when it was represented by the Colts.
An average of about 110 million television viewers are expected for the game. CBS is charging an average of $3.8 million for 30-second commercials. Alicia Keys will sing the National Anthem and Beyonce will perform at halftime.
The venue — the Mercedes Benz Superdome — was a shelter of last resort during Hurricane Katrina and was closed for more than a year for repairs. It underwent a $320 million renovation, which included new aluminum panel-siding that returned the stadium to its original champagne-bronze color.
But that was only a fraction of the city’s repairs. The airport underwent a $305 million renovation, the convention center was rebuilt for $93 million and the trolley system was enhanced.
New Orleans is eager to show it all off to roughly 150,000 visitors this week.
“You’re not just visiting a city, you’re visiting a culture,” Carville said. “You’re visiting a place that, unlike any other city in the world, has its own music; it has its own food; we have our own funerals; we have our own social structure; we have our own body of literature; we have our own architecture. And we want you to enjoy all of these things.”
“On the day of what I call the Engineering Failure — you call it Katrina — there were 809 restaurants in this area,” Carville said. “Today there are 1,330.”
New Orleans also has the nation’s highest murder rate. There were 193 people murdered in 2012, or 53 per 100,000. (Buffalo had about 19 per 100,000 in 2012.)
“We do have a high murder rate,” Carville said. “Unfortunately, it’s a kinda thing where 85 percent of the shooters know the victim. … Where the Superdome is, you’re gonna be as safe as you’re gonna be in any city in the world. … Our downtown area is as safe as being in Indianapolis or any other place.”
For the Super Bowl, the Department of Homeland Security joins the law enforcement presence.
“We’re going to have 1,200 officers on duty, particularly around the hospitality area,” said Mark Romig, host committee spokesman.