Katrina won't boost St. Louis Mardi Gras

Saturday, February 25, 2006

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis version of Mardi Gras might not rival New Orleans and bring party seekers here as some expected following Hurricane Katrina.

The annual St. Louis Mardi Gras kicks off today in the city's Soulard neighborhood with a parade, hurricane cocktails, Cajun food, parties galore and plenty of beads.

Hotel rooms were still available Friday near the event and travel experts said they have not seen a swell of tourists.

"I'm not seeing that huge increase," air travel expert Terry Trippler said. "We know somebody will go there who would have gone to New Orleans."

Business is up 10 percent to 15 percent at Drury Inns, but executives there said they were not sure if Mardi Gras deserved the credit.

Mobile, Ala., appears to have won the race for Mardi Gras tourism since New Orleans will have fewer parades and less hotel space following Katrina.

Mobile's Mardi Gras will include more than 30 parades and balls and organizers expect a million people to come, 20 percent more than in 2004.

"There is every indication this is going to be a very big Mardi Gras," said Harriet Sharer of the Mobile Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Hotels 30 and 40 minutes away from the festivities are sold out this weekend, she said.

Soulard Mardi Gras organizers said hundreds of thousands of visitors typically come and this year will be bigger. The Chicago Sun-Times went so far as ranking the St. Louis celebration as No. 2 in the nation.

"The only thing we can go by is sales and that increases 10 to 12 percent every year," Mardi Gras spokesman Mack Bradley said.

Businesses are ready. The Broadway Oyster Bar has 1,000 pounds of crawfish and 200 gallons of hurricane cocktails in the works.

Temperatures are expected to be in the 40s tomorrow with clear skies.

"This is a winter festival and, Katrina aside, Mother Nature has as much to say about turnout as New Orleans," Bradley said.

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