Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS- With thick crowds on a packed street, organizers said this year's Freret Street Festival was the biggest yet.
"It's fantastic. The crowds are out in force," said Michelle Ingram, festival director and owner of Zeus' Place. "They are spending for our local businesses."
Organizers said Saturday's busy fest was a far cry from the gathering that began 16 years ago. They estimated the crowd has grown 35 percent since last year, with roughly 20,000 people passing through.
Many said it shows just how much this street has blossomed.
"There's been a lot of businesses opened up, a lot more restaurants," said Dylan Williams, owner of Beaucoup Juice, which opened on Freret in 2009. "When I first moved here it was just me and a couple others."
Dat Dog opened the doors to its expanded location on Freret the day of the festival, just over a year after the popular hot dog spot originally opened across the street.
"Freret has really changed dramatically in the last few years. It's really a fantastic thing to witness and experience," said co-owner Constantine Georges. "It's really burgeoning with food places. You could say this is the real food court of New Orleans now."
Another aspect of Freret Street's revitalization is a city plan to improve sidewalks. Worried merchants were relieved the four street corners under construction were completed by the festival. The contractor and plans to start on other parts of the stretch once the fest is over.
"I promised them all free hot dogs if they got my corner done on time, and they did, so we're very pleased with that," said Georges.
Meanwhile, even more businesses are gearing up to open their doors on Freret as the once blighted street continues to grow.
In the past year, at least half a dozen businesses have opened on Freret Street. The PubliQ House, a music venue and bar, hopes to open by the summer.
And a number of other developers are eyeing Freret Street for possible locations.