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Taking back the French Quarter? Cantrell hints at local revitalization after coronavirus shutdown

Locals often call the French Quarter a tourist trap, but it wasn’t always like that.


When’s the last time you visited the French Quarter or the French Market? With very little tourism happening right now, an idea mentioned by the Mayor of New Orleans caught our attention. 

Mayor Latoya Cantrell was addressing a question about how the city can rebound from the impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the very critical tourism industry. 

In her response, she mentioned an idea of “taking back the Quarter." Locals often call the French Quarter a tourist trap, but it wasn’t always like that.

“I’m old enough to remember different. That whole French Quarter is a tourist destination must have happened in this generation. This used to be a local people’s neighborhood, people worked here, people lived here,” said Jay Roman.

Roman is the president of Café Du Monde, which recently reopened its stand on Decatur street. On Tuesday, they saw a trickle of tourists. Margherita Bautista and her son were driving back home to California and decided they had to get some beignets from at Café Du Monde.

“Yes we wanted to have this, I also wanted to give some to my other son,” said Bautista as she handled a heavy bag of beignets.

The city will need millions of visitors like them to support all the businesses in the quarter at pre-pandemic levels. That seems unrealistic, so last week, Mayor Cantrell said locals may need to step up.

“We are looking at all possibilities. Locals kind of taking over, taking back our quarter, taking back our flea market, creating larger scales of pedestrian malls, no cars in the quarter concepts.”

Are the mayor’s comments an actual plan or just a vision? That’s unclear, but early on there seems to be support for the idea.

“This is the time for locals that want to come back and want to walk around the quarter, this is their time,” said Jay Roman of Café Du Monde.

Lucy Tarzian and her husband live in the quarter. They support almost anything that would bring life back to the French Quarter, but cutting off vehicle traffic seems impractical.

“I’m not sure logistically how it could be, but if it could work out, I think it could be actually a very good idea,” said Tarzian.

As she and her husband were sitting at Café Du Monde’s modified stand sipping iced Café Au Laits, Tarzian said there’s no better time to visit and support what’s in our own backyard.

“It feels fabulous to be perfectly honest, and I have to say, I know there have to be less tables, and less people, but it’s lovely right now.”

In a written statement, Erin Holmes, the executive director of the Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents & Associates (VCPORA) said:

We are thankful for the City's efforts during Phase-1 of the reopening plan to prioritize public safety. The French Quarter is world-renowned for its distinctive architecture, vibrant culture, and commercial diversity. Our residents value the neighborhood-serving businesses that contribute to the authenticity of this mixed-use neighborhood. However, with fewer visitors anticipated in 2020, we know that the survival of many of our beloved establishments will now depend on the support of our fellow New Orleanians. Now is the time to love the French Quarter. We are currently in discussions with the Mayor’s Administration and District C Councilmember to explore creative opportunities to engage locals with the heart of our City. Pedestrianization efforts, like temporary reductions in vehicular access and the conversion of select parking spots into parklets, could provide additional seating capacity for businesses. We will continue working with the City to ensure that such reopening measures balance the needs of residents, businesses, and emergency services.

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