Super Bowl: Big Comeback for New Orleans
New Orleans, La.—New Orleans is a party city. It's also a city hit by two of the nation's biggest disasters of the last decade.
Hurricane Katrina. BP oil spill.
But for Super Bowl week, after years of work and hundreds of millions spent, the only hurricanes people are talking about are the ones you drink and the only spills will be after your fourth one.
"This truly is the grand daddy of all festivals and experiences," said Mark Romig, CEO of the NOLA Tourism and Marketing Corporation. "I'd say this ranks as THE event for New Orleans."
It's actually a plural as the Superbowl also coincides with the beginning of Mardi Gras.
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The city is showing off, and there are almost no signs of the devastation wrought by Katrina more than seven years ago.
But the effort has not been easy, and the cost has not been cheap.
Here are some of the numbers. Approximately $365 was spent upgrading the airport. The Mercedes Benz Superdome received a $336 million facelift. Hotels spent hundreds of millions to upgrade facilities, and even the street car system got almost $150 million.
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"We got the bid in 2009, and we have been working non-stop ever since," Romig said. "Now, we're in the countdown phase."
And the payoff phase.
The economic impact will be upward of half a billion dollars— 40-percent more than the last time New Orleans hosted the big game in 2002.
But more than that, the infrastructure is now in place for future events —BCS title game, Final Four, etc.
And the expectation is that the Superbowl will be back sooner than the 11-year gap between the last two.
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Regardless of when the game returns, hosting this one is special.
"Americans really need to understand that this is truly an American story," said political commentator Mary Matalin, who is on the Superbowl host committee. "It's not just about football."
It's about the comeback of a city, devastated just seven years ago, and now, even better economically than it was before Katrina.
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—By CNBC's Brian Shactman; Follow him on Twitter: @bshactman