HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - You didn't have to be a statistics expert or be equipped with a turnstile to see Huntsville's inaugural downtown Mardi Gras parade was a huge success - for organizers, downtown business and people who reveled in the fun.
Some 45 Krewes rolled floats through the streets decorated in traditional purple, gold and green. The event was organized by Blount Hospitality House, a nonprofit guest house for families with sick relatives at area hospitals. There were no fees to enter the parade. Proceeds from Saturday morning's Beignet Bash 5K and a Krewe party afterwards, instead benefited the Hospitality House.
"Some people say estimates up towards 15,000 people in the streets," said organizer Marydae Sneed of the Blount House. "So, this was an amazing day for Huntsville."
Sneed says Blount House is already mulling over ways to make next year's parade bigger and better with ideas like a "safe zone" free of bead-flinging for kids and maybe even stretching the event out over a few days.
"No telling what this is going to turn into but I think definitely north Alabama is on the map for Mardi Gras celebrations," Sneed said.
Great news for a local non-profit, of course, but when paraders got done on the streets of downtown what was there to do but pour into downtown establishments like The Bottle or Humphrey's Bar & Grill?
"The parade really had a big draw down here," says The Bottle/Humphrey's Chef Chris McDonald. "We kind of enticed people to come in - the Zydeco music was playing and it was just a great atmosphere - party time, you know."
Chefs beckoned party-goers with rum punch and beer specials as well as a Cajun-style paella. Restauranteurs love the excitement but can't deny the positive economic impact as well.
"It's a good sign of the economy taking a turn, I think," McDonald says. "People are more cautious with what they spend but I think if you give a good value and good service that you really have part of the elements to make everybody happy."
The happy happening all over bars and restaurants downtown carried over into a great first showing for the soft-opening of the Clinton Row Project. The tenants housed in the old storage units on Clinton Avenue reported big numbers and tons of interest and foot traffic.
Of course, the almighty dollar is, arguably, not the most important factor in the success of a downtown weekend. Perception, after all as they say, is everything.
The doubloons, beads and beers may be long gone from downtown Huntsville but what remains after this past weekend's parade - and obligatory after party - is the impression left in the hearts and minds of locals and out-of-towners alike: That shared sense of community and repeat customer mentality of folks who tell themselves, 'you know what, let's go back to downtown Huntsville - it really is a fun place to be.' Capitalizing on that, of course, is invaluable. And consequently, there's plenty more coming down the horizon to continue to foster that sentiment downtown.
Like the LIT event - a photoelectric show of light, innovation and technology. On Saturday, March 8, students from the University of Alabama in Huntsville will illuminate the west side of the Square with colorful, pulsing laser and LED lights timed to music.
And - the following weekend, on Saturday, March 15, join in the fun at the 37th Annual Ellen McAnelly Memorial St. Patrick's Day Parade. It starts at 11:30 a.m. and it's not too late to register your group if you want to be part of it. There are nearly 100 entries already and it promises to be a great family friendly event.
Looking back, by all accounts for a first-time try, the Mardi Gras parade really hit the mark.
"It is a lot of people and a lot of money, so I hope the economic impact for businesses in downtown Huntsville was greater than it was for Blount House," laughed Marydae Sneed, "But I hope in some future years that this can definitely be something that can help to sustain our budget for years to come."
If you enjoyed this year's parade activities, mark your calendars. The Blount House has its eyes set on a bigger, better Mardi Gras parade for Valentine's Day 2015.