michelle_ebanks.jpgNEW ORLEANS — The Essence Music Festival will call New Orleans home through 2014, organizers and city officials announced, in a deal they said would continue the boom in visitors and spending the city sees each summer.

Michelle Ebanks, president of Essence Communications, and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced a four-year deal that keeps the festival where it began 16 years ago.

“We are just overjoyed,” Ebanks said at a recent news conference. “The city of New Orleans is the natural home for the Essence Music Festival which has grown into an experience that is of a size and scope that was never foreseen.”

Staged over the Fourth of July weekend, the festival regularly draws hundreds of thousands of fans. This July, more than 400,000 people attended events held over a three-day period at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and the Louisiana Superdome.

The 2011 festival is set for July 1-3.

The Essence Music Festival started in 1995 to mark the 25th anniversary of Essence magazine and has since grown into a major national venue celebrating black music and culture.

“We are pleased to say that the Essence Music Festival is now one of the top destinations in the country,” Ebanks said. “But not only are they coming for the festival. Folks are coming to New Orleans for its food, charm and culture and it doesn't get much better than that.”

Terms of the new contract were not released but Landrieu's office said getting the deal was good for the city and the state.

“We found out what it was like not to have the Essence Music Festival,” Landrieu said, recalling 2006 when the festival moved to Houston while renovations were completed on the Louisiana Superdome and Ernest N. Morial Convention Center following Hurricane Katrina.

“When the festival was here, the hotels were 97 percent filled. When it wasn't here, the rooms were empty. That type of data gave us a really good baseline to gauge the economic impact,” the mayor said.

According to studies conducted by the University of New Orleans Hospitality Research Center, on average the festival generates more than $5.2 million in city taxes and $7.9 million in state taxes, with $47.6 million in earnings for area residents. It also showed that the average attendee spends more than $280 per day, with more than $90 million in primary spending and another $82 million in secondary spending, the mayor's office said.

“The importance of the festival to our culture, our festival calendar and our economy cannot be overstated,'' Landrieu said. “This is the kind of success we can have when we work together.''

Ebanks said the deal “is a pretty long horizon.”

“It gives us the perfect time frame for planning and coming together to maximize all of our resources,” she said.

Ebanks said other cities have courted the festival but she wouldn't name them. “They have wonderful venues but New Orleans is our home,” she said.

Asked whether the festival had chosen any headliners for next year's celebration, Ebanks remained mum.

“We are committed to being bigger and better than we've ever been,” she said, smiling. “We are working around the clock on this experience and all I'm saying is don't miss it.”


Pictured:  Michele Ebanks