More than 100 firefighters gathered outside City Hall Oct. 25 before the New Orleans City Council began its budget hearings for the New Orleans Fire Department (NOFD). Wearing yellow shirts bearing the International Association of Fire Fighters union insignia and the phrase “Support New Orleans Firefighters,” the attendees rallied as speakers in the bed of a nearby truck blasted Bruce Springsteen’s cover of “Pay Me My Money Down,” and other firefighters and their supporters waved signs as cars drove past on Perdido Street.
At the crux of the union’s concerns with the NOFD’s $86.2 million budget is staffing, and whether NOFD Superintendent Timothy McConnell is properly budgeted to safely staff stations and engines throughout the city. City Council President Jackie Clarkson’s first question to McConnell was whether he has adequate staff. He answered “yes” — which was met with boos from the firefighters and their supporters in the audience.
(Before the hearing outside City Hall, firefighters chanted, “If you don’t have four, you need more,” referring to fewer than four firefighters operating trucks at first response scenes. NOFD institutes a “two in, two out” policy where two firefighters manage the scene while the others operate the truck.)
“Every department would love to have more staff,” McConnell told the council. “We can keep the city safe in this budget.”
Though Broadway's bright light Kristin Chenoweth tried to steal the show at the grand opening of the Saenger Theatre Saturday - and with her enormous voice and crackling jokes, she certainly could have - the real star of the gala was the building that contained it.
The seats were nearly full for the opening gala, which celebrated the $5.2 million restoration that brought the theater back after Hurricane Katrina and the levee failure of 2005. Though a soft opening invited Comedian Jerry Seinfeld to the newly refurbished stage at the end of September, Chenoweth reigned over the grand opening with a set of show tunes, both new and old, that audiences could have sung along to if they'd wanted (and many did). It was a set perfectly timed invoke nostalgia, with songs like "Que Sera Sera," and "Feed the Birds." Many were back in the Saenger for the first time since the storm, delighted by its plush seats, stellar acoustics and cloudy, twinkling sky.
Casey Dietz, who came to shows at the Saenger as a kid, said she was impressed by how crisp the old venue looked. "I hoped it would look this good," she said. William Sonner and Michael Gallaugher were also in the building pre-Katrina, and neither could believe how well the renovation turned out. "It didn't disappoint," said Gallaugher.
Chenoweth is a national act, but she was remarkably deft at appropriating her show to a local audience. She name-dropped local venues, like the bar Oz, and she ended the show wearing the number 37 Saints jersey of Steve Gleason, who was also in the audience. She fought on stage with a puppet claiming to be the queen of carnival and she repeatedly applauded the rebuilding efforts that reconstructed the Saenger and the city as a whole.
A series of almost embarrassingly sincere moments took hold of Chenoweth's second act. First, just before performing the song "Popular," which the former Glenda the Good Witch sang in English, Japanese and German, Chenoweth invited two fans on stage. The entire audience watched as a man in tears got down on one knee and proposed to his longtime partner (who said yes). Next, Chenoweth called out for a duet partner for the song "For Good," also from Wicked. That honor was granted to the 14-year-old Brogan Hausknecht, a student at St. Mary's Dominican High School.
Chenoweth declared that she had not only fallen in love with the City of New Orleans, but also the mayor of New Orleans, though "not in a naughty way." In a surprise grand finale, Mayor Mitch Landrieu took the stage, accompanied by the Tony award winner Michael Cerveris, to sing the Epilogue from the musical Les Miserable. Landrieu held his own in a short solo, before being joined by the Delgado Community College Choir, the Gay Men's Choir and the Symphony Chorus of New Orleans.
The Saenger Theatre opened its doors today for the first time since Hurricane Katrina closed the Canal Street landmark in 2005. Under new twinkling fiber optic ceiling stars — part of a $52 million renovation — Mayor Mitch Landrieu proclaimed the project a symbol “of resurrection, redemption, resilience, of building the city not back the way she was but the way she should have always been.”
The Saenger was built in 1927 and the team of public-private entities responsible for its renovation, including the Canal Street Development Corporation, Ace Theatrical Group and the City of New Orleans, restored the building to reflect the original, with modern accoutrements like an expanded stage. The inside is complete with the dashing red carpet reminiscent of the original, and everything from the chandeliers to the paint scheme was researched for historical accuracy and constructed to reflect the building’s original interior. “All of the work that you see here is a reincarnation of the original designs and the original paintings,” Landrieu said.
The Saenger will host a slew of Broadway shows, musical, comedic and stage acts, including a grand opening performance by Kristin Chenoweth and the Louisiana Philharmonic Oct. 5. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld performs three shows during this weekend’s soft opening. New Orleans is the third largest producer of Hollywood films, behind New York and Los Angeles, thanks to film credits offered by the state and will have an originating tax credit for Broadway productions as well, Landrieu said, “because, in order for this thing to work, these seats have to be full, and the productions have to be great.”
Broadway Across America President Lauren Reid said “New Orleans will now be a destination for Broadway’s best and brightest.”
Though the opening is one of the most anticipated post-Katrina rebuilding efforts and a linchpin of the Canal Street corridor rehabilitation, Landrieu said “there’s other stuff going on. This is not the only thing that’s happening as you think about what is occurring just in this general space, in these two square miles. You have the VA and UMC hospitals, $2 million coming out of the ground as we speak.”
New Orleans City Council President Jackie Clarkson was in the Saenger for her fifth birthday, before World War II. “Thanks for the memories,” she said. “Many a tale has been woven in this edifice.”
After dozens of stakeholders squeezed behind a gold ribbon for a photo-op, the curtains of the Saenger opened to display its historic SAENGER letters, lighted and floating on the newly revealed stage. “You have this before you today,” Landrieu said. “It’s a gift to the people of the city of New Orleans.”
Drinking on the streets of New Orleans is not going extinct.
A flurry of Facebook and Twitter posts this week have some up in arms about the City of New Orleans’ alleged “war on go-cups” — all of which seemed to stem from a few articles promoting the New Orleans Daiquiri Festival Aug. 17. A petition on Neighborland.com asked go-cups to “remain legal."
But none of the articles pointed to any existing or planned ordinances to remove the city’s open container laws, and there is nothing of that sort in the works, according to Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration. “The City is not pursuing a universal restriction on go-cups,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s press secretary Tyler Gamble wrote in a statement to Gambit.
New businesses applying for a conditional use permit to open a bar, restaurant or venue, however, may be asked by the City Planning Commission (CPC) or the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to restrict or ban go-cups — a policy that has been in place since at least 2007, under the most recent zoning ordinances. That conditional use permit allows a bar, restaurant or venue to open within an area typically not zoned for such uses, like a primarily residential area. It also applies to the arts and cultural overlay district on Freret, where the zoning ordinance for conditional use permits reads, “To-go-cups shall be prohibited for those premises with alcoholic beverage permits.”
[edited for clarification to include the following] The upcoming St. Claude Avenue arts and cultural overlay, however, allows bars to have go-cups, provided they have the bar's logo.
In addition, a bar or venue may also sign a “good neighbor agreement” with the board, CPC and neighborhood organizations that prevents the bar from issuing go-cups. The agreements typically also include a litter abatement program, like adding trash cans.
Those restrictions do not apply to existing businesses, including bars and daiquiri shops, unless they are brought before New Orleans City Council or the alcohol board for violations, such as noise, litter, delinquent taxes or other issues. (Most recently at St. Roch Tavern.)
What about drinker’s rights? The city’s open-container law doesn’t prevent drinking outside a bar unless it’s in a glass or “metal” container: According to the city, “It shall be unlawful for owners of establishments which sell beverages in glass or metal containers in the city to knowingly allow any person to leave the premises of such establishment carrying an opened glass or opened metal container.” And the open-container law means there’s no reason you can’t bring your own go-cup to any establishment, either.
God's speed, Rodrigue
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