Mardi Gras News

Finally, a Solution for the Civic Center?
March 14, 2024: Thirteen Mobile parading organizations and five non-parading organizations will have to find a new place to stage their 2025 Mardi Gras balls because the Mobile Civic Center will be a pile of rubble by then.
   The city held a big announcement ceremony at the Civic Center today to break the news that after nearly 10 years of proposing then scrapping plans for the 60-plus-year-old facility, they’ve finally decided to knock it down and build a new one.
   “All of these existing buildings will be torn down,” Mayor Sandy Stimpson told the crowd. “What’s really exciting is what will be coming in place of it. “We will build a world-class entertainment facility that will be unrivaled on the Gulf Coast.”
   Years ago, in that very same room, Stimpson and others announced similar plans for the Civic Center, only at that time, the goal was to entice a developer into doing it for us.
   That never came to fruition.
   Then the city took on a study of refurbishing the out-of-date, rundown facility. In the end, they decided that replacing the Civic Center made the most sense.
   Now the city will spend an estimated $300 million to build a new arena, rather than trying to coax a developer into doing it. And, officials said, time is now of the essence. The longer they wait, the more expensive the project will get.
   That’s why demolition is slated to begin in August. (For those worried about the mosaic murals in the Civic Center, they will be saved and made part of the new arena)
   The last that most Mardi Gras organizations were told, the Civic Center was going to be refurbished, and that would not begin until after Mardi Gras 2025.
   Stimpson met with officers from several of the impacted Mardi Gras organizations just a few hours before today’s big announcement.
   “After the initial shock, they were very positive,” Stimpson said later. “They came into the room thinking we’d be talking about renovation. They didn’t know or, if they did, they didn’t act like they knew that we’d be talking about a clean sweep.”
   The officers were surprised by the schedule, Stimpson said, but “we, too, had been somewhat surprised by the schedule. As this information came to us, before we could go to the public, we had to make sure that we had buy-in, and we were doing the right thing.”
   As it stands, the city is projecting that the new facility will be finished and ready to use in January 2027, just in time for Mardi Gras.
   That, of course, is a very tight schedule. If things are delayed even a little, the Mardi Gras season that year – which will end on February 9 – could pass right by.
   Stimpson said there was some “cushion” built into that construction schedule of February 2025 through January 2027.
   Judi Gulledge, executive director of the Mobile Carnival Association, said she would probably make sure she’s prepared for three Mardi Gras  seasons without an arena available.
   “I’m a planner, so I would certainly plan to be displaced for longer, if necessary, and I’d make sure the members of my mystic society understood that, too,” she said.
  As for the organizations that will have to throw their fancy-dress celebrations somewhere else, Gulledge said, “I think the majority of them were fully aware that something like this was going to happen at some point, so I think the groundwork has been laid for most of these groups. There are still a few who are looking for an alternative place, but even in the last few weeks, they’ve stepped up their efforts.”
   The larger organizations, of course, have been looking to the Convention Center as their first choice of alternate location.
   This past Mardi Gras, the Convention Center hosted five Mardi Gras balls. Three of those balls create date conflicts for Civic Center-based organizations, namely Pierrettes, Order of Juno, and the largest of those three, Crewe of Columbus.
   All of this has happened at a time when most Mardi Gras organizations are on the threshold of their elections, creating changes in their leadership.
   Other possible challenges on the horizon:
   • It was also announced today that ASM, the company that has been managing the Civic Center, the Saenger Theater, and the Convention Center for the last several years is going to be replace by OVG Venues, probably in the next 90 days or so. Both companies said it should be a smooth transition, but they are the ones the mystic societies deal with in making arrangements for their balls.
   • The new bridge. No firm construction date has been announced, but it could come at any time. The staging and construction of it will surely present a number of changes and challenges to traffic flow.
   • Will demolition of the Civic Center or construction of the new arena create so much havoc on Civic Center Drive, South Lawrence Street, and/or South Claiborne Street that Route A parades in 2025 and 2026 will not be able to begin from the Civic Center? If so, where would they stage and start the parades?
   • The previously announced River Walk Plaza, to be built on the north end of the Convention Center, at last check was expected to break ground in 2025. That construction could posed tremendous obstacles to the use of the Convention Center in Mardi Gras 2026.
   When asked about some of these wrinkles, Stimpson said, “For 10 years, I’ve been challenged every day. We’ll figure it out. It’s just not clear right now.”

This is a blog of Mardi Gras-related news items from the Mobile area and elsewhere on the Gulf Coast:

Mystic Societies React to Civic Center News
March 20, 2024: Last week, on March 14, Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson announced that the city would be tearing down the Civic Center and building a new arena.
   That suddenly meant that 13 Mobile parading organizations and five non-parading organizations had to find new places to stage their Mardi Gras balls in 2025 and 2026.
   A couple of hours before making that announcement, Stimpson met in his conference room with officers of about a dozen of those affected Mardi Gras organizations to break the news to them himself.
   Since then, Mobile Mask has talked in-depth with officers from two of the larger mystic societies in attendance and discussed reactions to the news and plans for the future.
   Because mystic societies are secret, Mobile Mask will keep the details as anonymous as possible.
   As for the news itself, the officer from the first organization said, “We have been anticipating this. We were maybe a little bit surprised that it’s actually happening, but there’s no real surprise with what is happening.”
   The officer from the second organization agreed, saying, “In 30 years, I haven't experienced our ball anywhere other than the Civic Center. So, it's a shock. I'm excited about the new facility, don't get me wrong, but I wish we could have one more year at the Civic Center.
   “We joked during this past Mardi Gras, ‘Oh, we might not be here next year,’ just because of the indecisiveness over the years as to what was actually going to happen and when it was going to happen. But we knew we had been told that we had until after 2025, so that's what our members expected. And, of course, now we don't.”
   At least one officer at the mayor’s meeting “was not pleased with the ‘late notice’ about the 2025 ball,” the first officer recalled. “I think most of us were expecting to use the Civic Center in 2025.”
   Stimpson told Mobile Mask last week that he and his staff were surprised by the timing of this decision as well, but once they decided to rebuild and not fix the facility, it became clear to them that delay would simply cost more money.
   Now, both officers said, their organizations are considering the options for where to stage their formal balls.
   Several organizations have turned to the Convention Center, but that did not appear to be an option for either of them. They were unwilling to discuss the options currently under consideration, though the second officer stressed that locations well outside of downtown simply won’t work.
   “We will have a finalized plan and location in late June,” the first officer said.
   Both of them stressed that they would have to greatly reduce the size of their guest lists and that means a lot less money coming in. For that reason and more, they will have to make other changes, as well.
   Both said they have special committees formed to work out those details and make it work. “My focus will be on the members’ experience, our Queen’s experience, and our Emblem’s experience,” the first officer said.
   And both of them said that while the city’s timeline is to make the newly built arena available to the groups for Mardi Gras 2027, the groups will not be counting on that.
   “We will be delighted to be in the new facility in ’27, but we will be prepared if that date slides,” the first officer said.
   “That's a very ambitious schedule, as far as I'm concerned, with that type of construction. I’d be surprised if they hit that mark,” the second officer said.
   “I’m very excited about the new facility,” he said, “I think it’s going to be great. I was very excited to hear that they’re going to save the murals in the lobby.”
   Those will be saved and integrated into the new facility, it was announced last week.
   The second officer did say that he worries about the future and what the new facility will charge organizations to host their Mardi Gras balls. If it’s much more than the current Civic Center prices, the officer stressed, a number of organizations might not be able to afford it.
   “I know that’s a ways off down the road, but it does worry me,” the officer said. “People who are not in mystic societies seem to think that we have lots of money on hand, but we don’t. Our budgets are tight. Very tight. A big jump in ball expenses would price us right out of the new facility. I hope the city keeps that in mind.”

From the 2022
bowl game parade

To see earlier Mardi Gras News items, archived by year, simply click on the year:

Change in Bowl Game Sponsorship
Will Not Affect the Parade

May 15, 2023: It was announced today that Mobile’s bowl game, heading into its 25th meeting, has changed general sponsors for the fifth time. And for the first time, the sponsor is local: a Daphne-based company known as 68 Ventures.
   The immediate question for the Mardi Gras community is whether or not this change will affect the popular Mardi Gras-style parade that usually rolls the night before the game.
   The short answer, according to Mike Laird, who oversees the parade for the bowl game, is, “No. The parade will go on as it has.” In fact, Laird said, work has been underway to improve the parade for mother the riders and the revelers. Specifics are still being worked out, he said.
   68 Ventures, according to a news release, “is the parent company for numerous operating businesses along the Gulf Coast which focus on development, investment and construction …” It is “the largest single-family developer within the region, deploying well over a billion dollars in capital, and reaching the ranks as one of the top 100 private home builders.”
   The parade also usually has sub-sponsors, Laird said. As of last year, those sub-sponsors were Greer’s Market and Cashsaver as well as This is Alabama, a division of Alabama Media Group.
   The parade is usually made up of floats from Mobile Mardi Gras organizations, and riders usually come from those organizations and their family members. There’s plenty of throws, and for seven of the last eight years, the parade has had a decidedly Christmas-y feel since it was held just a few days before Dec. 25.
   The actual date of the first 68 Ventures Bowl will be announced “sometime later this month,” according to the news release, but it did refer to the upcoming contest between a Sunbelt Conference team and a Mid-American Conference team as a “December matchup.”
   Just to review, the bowl game itself began its life in 1999 as the Mobile Alabama Bowl. By 2001, it was the GMAC Bowl for nine years. Then it was the GoDaddy Bowl for six meetings, the Dollar General Bowl for the next three contests, and the Lending Tree Bowl for the last four.
   “We have gone through sponsorship change a few times, and the parade has continued on,” Laird said. “The general sponsor really doesn’t get involved in the details of things like the parade."

A gallery of several graphics and schematics of the proposed new arena can be found at the end of this story.

Pains, Strains, and Automobiles
December 8, 2023: The Civic Center is still being used for Mardi Gras balls, construction of the new bridge has not yet started, and train service has not yet resumed in downtown Mobile.
   But a few big changes and logistical challenges lie ahead this year, even before those humongous things happen.
   A quick list:
   • Bienville Square will remain closed
   • RV City is kaput
   • No parking at the Civic Center
   • Cruise ship is back

   Bienville Square was closed in August for a refurbishing that had been planned for years – since shortly after Hurricane Sally took down a bunch of trees and limbs in September 2020.
   As part of that, the famous Ketchum Fountain was removed in August 2021 to be refurbished. At the time, officials said the fountain would likely be gone for “several months.”
   It’s been gone for about 2.5 years now.
   When Bienville Square was closed this past summer, and tall chain-link fencing was put around it, officials said the plan was to have the park reopened in time for Mardi Gras. They recognized, they said, how important that spot is to generations of Mobile revelers.
   Even if all of the work wasn’t finished, they said, the park would largely be reopened.
   In December, it became clear that timetables had not been met, the park was still torn up, and it simply wasn’t going to be ready until later in the spring.
   “We are currently working with the contractor to see what might be possible in terms of limiting the amount of fencing to allow for some access, perhaps on the sidewalks,” city spokesman Jason Johnson told us at press time. “That will depend on the status of the project at the time.”
   Our advice – just stay away from Bienville Square. If your family is used to camping and grilling there, find another spot this year.

   For those who have made use of RV City since 2000, that little stretch of camper nirvana is gone, likely for good.
   The Alabama Department of Transportation actually owns the land under Interstate 10, starting at the northeast corner of Water and South Jackson streets, and the city of Mobile “borrowed” the land to rent out more than 100 camping spots – no water, no electricity hookups.
   There was always a waiting list, largely of locals, who enjoyed setting up camp on the Saturday of the first Civic Center ball – the Etruscans – nearly two weeks before the first downtown parade, the Conde Cavaliers.
   For them, it was a party spot and a base of operations. Go up the street, catch the parade, then head back, sit around the fire, have some dinner, that kind of thing.
   Last year, though, ALDOT said they were going to withdraw permission for the city to use that stretch of land because the state was going to use it as a staging area for bridge construction.
   That $2.5 billion project hadn’t started as of December, and no one was offering a start date, but ALDOT made good on its promise to shut down RV City.

   Construction has begun, as promised, on a new headquarters for the Army Corps of Engineers in the parking lot of the Mobile Civic Center.
   That construction, including a new 1,000-spot city parking garage, is expected to reduce the Civic Center parking lots 1,400 spaces to just 150 by the time Mardi Gras balls begin this year, officials said.
   And that means that ball attendees will not be able to park at the Civic Center this year. Period.
   “We are working with event organizers to get out information about all the parking options downtown,” Jason Johnson said. “We are also recommending that organizers start making alternative plans now, such as using shuttling services from off-site parking or encouraging ridesharing services, carpooling or public transportation options.”
   He suggested that ball-goers also frequently check the city’s website at for updates on traffic and parking.

   It’s been a few years since Mobile had Mardi Gras and a cruise ship downtown at the same time. But the Carnival Spirit started sailing out of the Mobile Cruise Terminal on October 6.
   The 963-foot long Spirit, launched in July 2000, is the longest ship to sail out of Mobile, but its capacity of 2,124 passengers is the second-smallest of the four Carnival ships that have served Mobile since 2004.
   Carnival said the Spirit offers more amenities, such as restaurants, shops, and attractions, than the previous ships.
   The Spirit will be in Mobile on a seasonal basis, from October through March, taking six- and eight-day cruises through the Caribbean.
   Of note, the Spirit will be sailing in and out on Saturday, February 3, which is the day of the Senior Bowl and a full slate of afternoon parades (Mobile Mystics, Mobile Mystical Revelers, Mobile Mystical Friends) and evening parades (Maids of Mirth, Order of Butterfly Maidens, Krewe of Marry Mates).
   And the ship will be sailing in and out on Joe Cain Day, February 11.
   That’s nothing the city hasn’t handled before, but again, it’s been four Fat Tuesdays, and it simply adds to the traffic logistics of a couple of very busy days.