New event added to Mardi Gras celebration

ALBANY -- The downtown Albany Mardi Gras celebration will grow once again in 2010, organizers say, adding another event to a weekend already packed with festivities.

In its ninth year downtown, the festival has linked up in recent years with the Snickers Marathon Bar Marathon and the Regions Bank Bike Race, drawing as many as 50,000 people downtown, organizer and local attorney Phil Cannon said.

"This thing started nine or 10 years ago under the parking deck, and last year we estimated that we had 50,000 people downtown so the growth and the interest has been phenomenal," Cannon said.

This year, Cannon and others are planning to add another event they hope will continue the festival's history of growth and success -- a concert at the Veterans Amphitheater called Praise in the Park.

Teaming with the Levee Creative Group, Cannon said the event will hopefully be go on all day on Sunday, March 7 and would effectively close out the weekend celebration.

Cannon said that, ideally, local churches will be given 30 to 45 minutes of stage time to put on an act of some kind -- choirs, bands, magic show, skits, etc. -- although the details are still being ironed out.

Lisa Riddle, director of the Albany-Dougherty Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the weekend is an opportunity for the community to shine.

"This has become a huge opportunity for members of the community to come out and show our visitors from around the world our community," Riddle said. "There really is nothing else quite like it the rest of the year."

According to a formula commonly used to determine economic impact, last year's event is believed to have generated $2.5 million for the local economy, Riddle said.

So far, participation for the marathon and half-marathon appears to be tracking at about the same levels as last year, both in terms of runners and sponsors.

In a first for the marathon, U.S. Army troops in Iraq will run a marathon and half-marathon to coincide with the events in Albany, Riddle said.

The festivities will officially begin downtown March 6, but plans are also in the works for members of the Sunbelt Photography Club to display their artwork from last year's festival beginning in February, Cannon said.