Mayor Landrieu unveils New Orleans' tricentennial group


Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced members of committees tasked with organizing the city's 300th anniversary in 2018.
  • Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced members of committees tasked with organizing the city's 300th anniversary in 2018.

As New Orleans prepares to show itself off to the world for its 300th anniversary, Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced today the committee members — made up of local and expat well-known New Orleanians — tasked with planning the city's landmark occasion.

Landrieu and committee members, staged inside Gallier Hall, made it clear that city's tricentennial in 2018 will intend to inspire and reassert itself as the soul of the U.S. — while also promoting itself as a world class destination. 2018 has been Landrieu's (and marketers') calling card in promoting the city and has been a frequent talking point during redevelopment efforts around the city, at press conferences, budget talks, and elsewhere. (It also was a selling point during an unsuccessful bid to host Super Bowl LII.)

"The people of this great city literally came together because they had to, and declared to the world that it deserved a better New Orleans," Landrieu said. "We decided as a city, almost miraculously, that we were not going to rebuild this city the way we were. We committed to the nation and the world that we were going to rebuild the city that we always should’ve been and the city that we always wanted to be."

An executive committee will oversee eight committees handling the event. The executive committee includes Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, Tom and Gayle Benson, Donna Brazile, Drew Brees, Leah Chase, James Carville, Patricia Clarkson, Harry Connick Jr., Norman Francis, Steve Gleason, Russel Honore, Walter Isaacson, Rita Benson LeBlanc, Wynton Marsalis, Mary Matalin, and Sybil Morial.

Other committees include the Finance Committee; the Cultural and Historical Education Committee; the Community Engagement Committee; the International Engagement Committee; the Media and Branding Committee; the Expat Engagement Committee; and the Signature Events and Hospitality Committee.

The Racial Reconciliation Committee — chaired by Carol Bebelle, Flozell Daniels, Allison Plyer and Matt Wisdom — will "find ways to bring people together to have a dialogue," Landrieu said. "We will build relationships."

"The incidents in Ferguson remind us that race is a complex issue, that every city has to address. You can’t go around it, you can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, you have to go through it. I intend as the mayor of this city to lead that discussion," he said. "We will show the city and the country what racial reconciliation looks like in 2018."

The groups will be responsible for coming up with respective programs and projects and will catalog events around town. Events and updates will be posted on the website and its social media sites.

Mark Romig, president of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, serves as director of the 2018 commission. He told Gambit that beginning early next year, the executive committee will meet "one-on-one" with the subcommittees, "to scope out what citizens see as the approach and direction" of their respective committees. "We want this to be inclusive a process as possible," he said. "We’re open to all advice. I see this developing from the neighborhood level all the way to citywide level. We’re going to want to have outreach into the neighborhoods. Some reach as far back as the founding of our city."

Each committee will submit a report to the executive committee, which will then have an action plan for mid-2015 — which also is the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the federal floods.

"With Katrina’s anniversary coming up, the 10th, there will be a lot of attention on New Orleans. We want to incorporate much of that. That’s part of telling the story of resiliency," Romig said. "Our effort obviously has a longer look, but we certainly want to support the effort of telling the story."

Romig said the group also plans to reach out to countries that have helped build New Orleans in some way over the last 300 years, and there will likely be events around those visitations. 2018's Mardi Gras also plans to be a bigger-than-ever event.

"We want to use this opportunity to remind the world that New Orleans is that world-class city, that we played an integral part of the founding of not only our nation but the world, as it relates to culture — our jazz, our food, our way of life," Romig said.

The group also plans to support itself and events through private donors — though it hasn't gotten that far just yet. Romig said the committees will plan first, raise money second. "We’re trying to do this without putting any pressure on our already tight budgets we have at the city and state level," he said, adding with a laugh, "We haven't identified donors yet, but I’ll be coming."

Author Walter Isaacson, who was born in New Orleans and is president of the Aspen Institute, traced a brief history of New Orleans via its creative output during today's press conference.

"The 300-year history of New Orleans is the history of creativity in America," he said. "That’s why this celebration of New Orleans’ 300th is probably the most important celebration New Orleans has ever had, and in some ways, like a lot of what we’re doing in New Orleans these days, the template for the kind of thing that will help infuse the soul and thought of this country."

Leah Chase, of dining institution Dooky Chase's Restaurant, said, "Everybody has a part to play."

"We can do this over a bowl of gumbo."

James Carville cracked up Landrieu with a joke "(How many New Orleanians does it take to change a light bulb? Five. One to change the lightbulb and four to talk about how the old one was better.") before declaring 2018 as the city's defining time in its history, and a time the city is called to "build a legacy."

"We’ve had more Golden Eras than hurricanes," Carville said. "When future historians look back at the history of this city, they’re gonna say 2018 was the Platinum Era."

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