Major events, like last month’s JazzFest, together with big conventions, like the Academy’s Annual Meeting, are helping this celebrated city get back on its feet after Hurricane Katrina.
In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Scott Lanoux, MD, feared that rebuilding his practice might not be an option. A mandatory evacuation had denuded New Orleans of much of its population, and, with lower-lying neighborhoods under water, it was unclear how soon the authorities would allow people to return. “During the first month, every New Orleans physician was looking for a Plan B. We were worried there may be no practice for us to go back to,” said Dr. Lanoux. “I talked to my family about the possibility of not returning, and they started crying, saying, ‘No way! It can’t come to an end like that.’”
After a period of living like nomads while he and his family waited to return home—staying first in Baton Rouge, then Texas, and then Baton Rouge again—Dr. Lanoux was finally able to start rebuilding his home and his practice. “Our home hadn’t been damaged as badly as other houses, so I feel blessed in a way,” he said. Rebuilding his practice, however, presented more of a challenge. With many of the city’s residents still exiled in Baton Rouge, Houston and even farther afield, physicians throughout the city faced a sharp drop in their patient base. “Before Katrina, I only had one location,” said Dr. Lanoux. “It was at Memorial Hospital, which had been decimated. After Katrina, I opened up an office in a suburb, but I had lost half of my practice.” As the city’s employment situation improved, residents returned in increasing numbers, and Dr. Lanoux was able to open up a second location closer to his former office. Many of those returning residents found jobs catering to the city’s key industry—tourism. Last month’s JazzFest, for instance, attracted more than 375,000 attendees over two weekends.
“New Orleans has always done big events well,” said Dr. Lanoux. “That’s why it has hosted more Super Bowls than any other city—we know how to look after our visitors. This is why the NCAA asked us to host next January’s Sugar Bowl and the NBA selected us for its next All-Star Game. And the Academy has returned here so often because the city does conventions well, too. It has a lot of hotels, a lot of restaurants and, of course, the French Quarter, and they’re all close to the convention center.”
Post-Katrina, the first national organization to convene in New Orleans was the American Library Association, which held its annual conference in the city 12 months ago. The media put this meeting under a spotlight, but after the librarians had come and gone with nothing to report in the “police blotter,” the city’s burgeoning convention business became a nonstory for the national press. “If 18,000 librarians can come, walk around New Orleans and have a fun time without any problems, then no other set of attendees is going to have any problems,” said Steve Perry, president of the city’s visitors’ bureau.
|IS NEW ORLEANS READY FOR THE ACADEMY? |
If in doubt, ask your local heart doctors. Chances are that they spent late March in the Big Easy attending the American College of Cardiology’s convention. “We had more than 26,000 attendees, which includes both cardiologists and the exhibitors,” said Sue Sears Hamilton, senior director of the ACC’s scientific session. “This was comparable with the numbers that we had when we last came to New Orleans, which was in 2004. And the collaboration with the convention center, hotels, major airlines and city authorities was better than in any other city that I have worked with. In addition to the general New Orleans friendliness, they were really grateful that we were coming to help them out. And your Academy meeting takes place eight months after ours did, so things will just get better and better.”
The Academy in New Orleans
“The city has proven that it is ready to handle major events,” said Dr. Lanoux. “In the last year, we have hosted plenty of conventions and festivals without any problems. We had Mardi Gras, with hundreds of thousands of people, and JazzFest, with hundreds of thousands of people, and both went off without missing a beat. The city has shown that it has all the components in place for handling big conventions like the Academy’s Annual Meeting.”
Will there be enough hotel rooms? “More than 30,000 hotel rooms have reopened,” said Dr. Lanoux. “And we only had 37,000 before the hurricane. The Hyatt next to the Superdome hasn’t reopened, but other than that the rooms that are missing were in hotels that Academy attendees probably wouldn’t have stayed in anyway.”
How about restaurants? “New Orleans is known worldwide for its superior meals, and nearly every restaurant has reopened,” said Dr. Lanoux. Indeed, “many restaurants have been refurbished and are in the best state that they’ve ever been in,” said Mr. Perry. “And a lot of the celebrity chefs are now spending more time than ever at their New Orleans restaurants.”
What about crime? “It infuriates me that the press is always looking for a story about this,” said Dr. Lanoux. “Yes, as in any major city, there is crime in the bad neighborhoods, but if you visit New Orleans for this year’s meeting, you will notice no difference from last time the Academy was here. The French Quarter, the Business District and the area around the convention center are all totally safe.”
When is hurricane season? In those years when hurricanes occur, they mostly happen in August or September, said Dr. Lanoux. “We never have had a hurricane of note after the last week of September. This is because hurricanes thrive on heat, and once the cold weather moves in, the ocean’s waves cool off. This robs the air of the tropical energy that is needed to build a hurricane.”
You can help rebuild the neighborhoods, one tourist dollar at a time. “For those people who don’t go to the Academy every year, this is not the year to skip it. This is the year to step up and attend the meeting. Restaurant workers, taxi drivers and musicians are all trying to rebuild their homes—but without tourism, without conventions, they will struggle to do so,” said Dr. Lanoux. “I think visitors have recognized that they can help, and are coming to New Orleans because of Katrina. Since the hurricane, I’ve met so many tourists who’ve told me, ‘We’ve always wanted to come to New Orleans anyway, and the city needs tourists in order to rebuild, so this is a great time to go.’”
Born and raised in the Ninth Ward, Dr. Lanoux is a general ophthalmologist who has practiced in New Orleans for 18 years. He is team ophthalmologist for the New Orleans Saints and, at the time of Hurricane Katrina, was president of the New Orleans Academy of Ophthalmology.
|PARTICIPATE FIRSTHAND IN A CITY'S REBIRTH |
Register for EyeBuild and help construct homes in the residential areas that were hardest hit by the flooding that occurred after Katrina.
For although the city’s oldest neighborhoods, such as the French Quarter, escaped unscathed, other neighborhoods were not so lucky. “There are neighborhoods that are struggling horribly,” said Dr. Lanoux. “There are major problems because people don’t have a place to live. So many houses have to be rebuilt.”
The Academy has partnered with New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity to build housing for families in need. Shuttle buses to and from the work site, lunches and an EyeBuild T-shirt are provided through the support of the project’s sponsors: Alcon, Allergan Foundation, AMO, BD, Carl Zeiss, Genentech, Inspire, Santen, Vistakon, AVW-Telav and Freeman.
When? Wednesday, Nov. 7 to Friday, Nov. 9. Sign up for one day, two days or all three days.
Cost? $25 per day. This includes insurance and supplies.
What skills are needed? No specific skills are needed; training will be provided onsite.
How to register: Sign up online at www.aao.org/annual_meeting. Space is limited.