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Tourism leaders hope Sugar Bowl is sign of good things to come

Champions Square before the Sugar Bowl Champions Square before the Sugar Bowl

New projections indicate 2013 will be a big winner for the New Orleans tourism industry. What's starting with the Sugar Bowl could end with a benchmark that tourism leaders have been trying to hit since Katrina.

The party started early for Louisville and Gator fans outside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Thousands packed into Champions Square Wednesday for a free concert by local band Mojeaux and entertainment provided by the Florida and Louisville marching bands.

Some fans made this a week-long trip.  Joe Carta from Louisville said, "We came in on Friday, last Friday and been here ever since."

Florida fan Reggie Moran commented, "We rode all the way from Sarasota, Florida to support our Gators." 

Tourism officials estimate last year, about nine million people visited the Crescent City. This year, they're hoping to surpass 10 million. 

Mark Romig with the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation said, "This could be the year that we've come as close as we've ever been to the pre-Katrina numbers."

The crowds turning out for the Sugar Bowl will certainly help.  And there are several other events coming up in the city, such as the Super Bowl, that will bring in millions.

First-time visitors to New Orleans told us they're impressed with what they've seen.

"I love the French Quarter. I love the architecture. I love the food and it's just very exciting to ride on the Mississippi as well," Makaya Moran said.

Joe Carta added, "It's a great place to visit. I'd come back again."

Mayor Mitch Landrieu says the city has a strategic marketing plan in place to keep people coming back.

"When we talk about sports and economic development and entertainment, people ask, 'Why do you spend so much money on these, on the Sugar Bowl, or the Super Bowl?' It's because the investment that comes back into the community, from not only philanthropic goods but just the economic impact of it, is great," Landrieu explained.

Football fans at Champions Square say they have no problem spending their money here for a great experience -- which is exactly what New Orleans tries to offer.

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