This year's Mardi Gras events will be held March 3.
ALBANY — The downtown Mardi Gras celebration held each year during the first weekend in March is going through a few changes.
Phil Cannon, an Albany attorney who is with the Downtown Merchants Association, shared some plans for the festivities — which, based on last year’s numbers, officials expect more than 50,000 people to attend — at a recent civic club meeting.
The most obvious changes will be the locations of the festival as well as the SB&T Bike Race.
The street festival, for the last several years, has been held on the 200 block of West Broad Avenue. It has now been moved to the 100 block of Front Street, just outside the Albany Welcome Center.
“This is so everything will be centered,” Cannon told the Dougherty Rotary Club Tuesday.
The festival move made it necessary to move the location of the annual bike race, which will be taking place on the same day along with the Albany marathon and half-marathon. In past years, bakers have ridden on a course laid out in a figure-eight pattern that took riders west on Pine Avenue, north on Jackson Street, east on Flint Avenue, south on North Washington Street, east on Pine Avenue, south on Front Street, west on Broad Avenue, north on Washington Street and then west on Pine Avenue.
The new route will start from the intersection of Pine Avenue and North Washington Street. From there, it will go southward and west on Broad Avenue, north on Jackson Street, east on West Roosevelt Avenue and south on Washington Street.
The new route will transform the course into a rectangular shape. The festival will run from noon to midnight on March 3 and include many of the features people expect from year to year, from music to food to entertainment.
The Mardi Gras festival, now in its 10th year, was started by Cannon and local restaurateur and musician Bo Henry. There were 1,300 attendees the first year, a number that has since grown to 50,000 people.
“I met Bo Henry and began talking about ways to get the community involved with downtown Albany,” Cannon said. “There were 1,300 people there the first year, and 3,000 the next year.
“Then, Sara Underdown came in and added the bike race, and the marathon the year after that.”
Cannon said that, for the first few years, he and Henry paid for the event out of their own pockets — and that it took several years to get their money back.
In recent years, it has taken $48,000 to pull the festivities off. Cannon said he expected this year’s cost to run around $55,000.
“It was about five years before we got our money back, and now we make enough to fund the next year’s event,” Cannon said. “I’m proud to say that we do not spend one penny of the taxpayers’ money.
“It is truly an event that funds itself.”
Cannon also presented to Rotarians the planned marathon and half-marathon routes, which remain essentially the same as they have been from previous years.
“It is surprising how much of Dougherty County we cover (through the marathon and half-marathon courses),” Cannon said.
As of Tuesday, there were 100 more registered for the race than at the same time last year, event coordinators at the club meeting said.
“This (the Mardi Gras weekend) has put Albany, Georgia on the world map,” Cannon said. “If we let it grow, it will (benefit the community).”
Officials are currently recruiting 2,000-3,000 volunteers to help out with the marathon.
“This is a lot of volunteers for a community this size, but we don’t (usually) have a problem getting volunteers,” Cannon said.
The Flint RiverQuarium Turtle Race and Praise in the Park will be among the other activities planned to take place in the downtown area that weekend.
Bobby McKinney, interim CEO of the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce, said the economic impact from this year’s festivities is expected to surpass $1 million.