N.O. Maps Out Mardi Gras

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City officials on Wednesday announced a scaled-down plan for next year's Mardi Gras celebration that will still cover both of its traditional weekends but be four days shorter than usual.

The hurricane-battered city's plan is to allow eight days of festivities for the annual pre-Lenten party, and to consider corporate sponsorships to help defray the city's cost, said Ernest Collins with city's Office of Economic Development.

The city initially pitched a six-day schedule because of concerns over the cost of overtime pay for police, emergency responders and sanitation crews. But parade krewes complained it wasn't enough.

"It's common sense," said Ed Muniz, captain of Endymion, one of the city's biggest parades. "This is a city people love to visit, and this is one of the events that makes New Orleans what it is."

The compromise, which still requires the mayor's approval, calls for parades during the weekend of Feb. 18-19, and the following Thursday, Feb. 23, through Mardi Gras, Feb. 28, Collins said.

Overtime for police may be possible on Mardi Gras and the weekend when some of the biggest parades roll through the city, Collins said. Only eight hours of parades would be allowed the other days.

The plan would save money for police by confining all clubs to the same parade route along St. Charles Avenue.

The city will also seek corporate sponsorships this year and help from the hospitality industry and parade krewes to cover costs such as policing and cleanup.

"We don't want overt commercialization of Mardi Gras, but at the same time there are opportunities to bring in corporate underwriters where we can intelligently incorporate their message and their brand into celebration," Collins said.

Tourism official expect about 20,000 hotel rooms to be available for visitors, down from the normal 36,000. Crowds also will likely be smaller because so many residents have been displaced.