Riverwalk to reopen in time for Super Bowl
Jan. 21, 1997
NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ That loud sigh of relief comes from the banks of the lower Mississippi River, where the Riverwalk shopping mall, heavily damaged by an out-of-control freighter, is reopening just in time to share in the Super Bowl bounty.
``In this business, what you have lost, you have lost. I can't tell you (the Super Bowl) will make up the difference,'' said Brian Lade, vice president and general manager of the riverside mall. ``What I can tell you is it is a good time to reopen.''
With little fanfare, most of the 120 stores in the riverside mall will unlock their doors at 10 a.m. Thursday for business.
The thicket of girders and collapsed walls has been mostly cleared away since Dec. 14, when the 700-foot Bright Field lost power and slammed into the mall, narrowly averting two crowded cruise ships and a riverboat casino.
The immediate human toll could have been much worse. There were no deaths and, among the more than 100 people hurt, there were few serious injuries.
However, the accident was economically devastating for the mall and its tenants, coming at the height of the Christmas shopping season, which makes up as much as 20 percent of the stores' annual sales.
Fifteen of the most heavily damaged stores still won't be ready to open this week. It will be late summer at the earliest before all the mall property is restored, Lade said.
Crews have been working two 10-hour shifts every day to finish the demolition, shore up the structure and clean up the mess in time for the Super Bowl and for Mardi Gras season, which cranks into high gear in early February.
A wall 30 feet high and 250 feet long hides the worst damage from shoppers, while leaving space behind it for construction crews to work. The damaged stores' glass fronts were moved in front of the wall, creating a shallow line of mini-stores.
The damage was done roughly in the middle of the half-mile-long mall. A walkway runs through the devastated section and under the scaffolding shoring up the mall's upper floor. Mall management hopes some creative decor _ trim, translucent materials and decorative lighting _ will make the walkway ``quite attractive'' to returning shoppers.
But don't expect to find T-shirts at the Riverwalk sporting irreverent slogans such as ``I survived the Bright Field.'' But rest assured there will be plenty of Super Bowl T-shirts for sale at the mall.
New Orleans is booked solid for the event, with hotels as far away as Baton Rouge hiking room rates by 50 percent for that weekend. Demand for rooms is so great that four cruise ships and three steamboats have been chartered as floating hotels. And even residents have been cajoled by property management firms to rent their homes out for the event.
Just for hotel rooms, the bill is expected to be $46 million. Last year's Super Bowl had a $305 million impact in Phoenix, according to a study prepared by the Arizona State University College of Business.
The Riverwalk is not alone in preparing to catch some of the cash spun off by the Super Bowl hype. Store owners, street musicians, restaurateurs and cabbies are all positioning themselves for a piece of the Super Bowl action.
The game is expected to bring in between $249 million and $307 million in direct and indirect economic impact for the metropolitan area, according to two studies done by MetroVision, an economic development firm.
``If we can open before the Super Bowl, that is a nice piece of business for us,'' Lade said.