NEW ORLEANS - Managers at Happy's Irish Bar downtown have prepped their staff for Sunday's big game like this: Think of the biggest game day you've worked - and multiply it by 10.
Happy's has sold its bar for half the day Sunday to an invite-only party sponsored by ESPN, followed by a $250-a-person viewing party at the bar. The rest of the weekend, it expects thick crowds as visitors descend into this city for Super Bowl XLVII between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens.
"It's going to have a lasting impact," manager Daniel Cain said, as purple-clad Ravens fans mingled with red-dressed 49ers faithful at the bar. "The Super Bowl is going to show what New Orleans is all about."
The city left in ruins seven years ago by the floods following Hurricane Katrina is hosting one of the biggest parties on the planet this weekend - and reaping the financial benefits that come with it.
City officials expect a $432 million economic boost from the Super Bowl and the myriad of corporate parties and events that surround it. That's $100 million more than Indianapolis netted last year during Super Bowl XLVI but less than the estimated $600 million the Dallas area drew during Super Bowl XLV in 2011, according to figures from the respective host committees.
More than 150,000 people are expected in the city for the weekend, many of them with sizable corporate expense accounts and occupying nearly every one of the 38,000 rooms in and around the city, said Kelly Schultz of the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau. Demand for rooms has been so high - and available rooms so hard to come by - that tourist officials have redirected visitors to hotels as far away as Baton Rouge and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, she said.
Equally valuable is the international spotlight that will glare on the city, showing how far its recovered from the ruinous floods of 2005, she said. About 5,000 national and international media members are in town to cover the Super Bowl, and more than 100 million viewers will be watching worldwide, according to city figures.
"We could never manufacture a marketing campaign that good," Schultz said. "And if we could, we couldn't afford to pay for it."
Hotel rooms have been booked solid for months, some longer than that.
The Saint Hotel on Canal Street sold out all its rooms for Super Bowl weekend - five months before it even opened. The massive rehab construction on the downtown hotel was only midway completed last year when owner Mark Wyant received phone calls from two major corporations, locking up the entire 166-room hotel for the weekend, he said.
Hotel revenue for the weekend is up nearly 100% from the same three days the year before, he said. The Saint, a modern boutique hotel with sleek furniture and a giant chandelier hanging over its lobby pool table, opened in January 2012 and has hosted guests for Mardi Gras, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and other large citywide events. But nothing compares to the Super Bowl, Wyant said.
"It's probably the finest event you can hold for the city," he said. "You get a very high end audience and crowd."
The Super Bowl and its thousands of participants and media could also help shake off the specter of Katrina that continues to linger over the city, he said.
"People now get to see how far New Orleans has come since Katrina," Wyant said. "It kind of frames the city in an accurate light. It'll pay dividends downstream."
City officials bet big on the economic and image boost the Super Bowl would deliver by fast-tracking more than $1 billion worth of city, state and federal infrastructure projects around the city, including a $356 million renovation of the airport, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said. For months, streets were torn up as workers repaved roads and added a new streetcar line to the area around the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the epicenter of the weekend events.
The investment was a no-brainer: Many of the projects had been slated since Katrina. It was a matter of getting them all done before visitors began arriving this weekend, he said.
"We saw the opportunity of the Super Bowl to reinvest in those things that will make us stronger when it's over," Landrieu said. He added: "We expect to get more Super Bowls."
The Super Bowl's impact reaches beyond the traditional beneficiaries of hotels and bars. The city's growing tech community has been feeling the buzz, creating apps that help visitors navigate the city and taking advantage of the heightened attention to the city.
Local software firm Voodoo Ventures began work on an iPhone game app in November with the intent of unveiling the program on Super Bowl weekend, founder Chris Schultz said. The new app, called Mardi Brah, uses illustrations from a local artist and locally-produced music in a football-skills game.
The app is currently offered for free for iPhone users but there are plans to develop more applications around it, Schultz said. Having the Super Bowl in New Orleans has galvanized the tech community, he said.
"This is an opportunity for New Orleans to be on the world's biggest stage," Schultz said. "It's inspiring."
Rick Jervis, USA TODAY