The gathering point for Mobile’s oldest and most famous tradition–Mardi Gras–is getting a major facelift after the Mobile City Council announced a $1.1 million investment into the park in a public-private partnership.
Mobile’s Oldest Tradition
First thing’s first, let’s get this factoid out of the way: Mobile IS the original home of Mardi Gras. New Orleans may be more famous for it, but Mobile did it first.
But what is Mardi Gras? Well, it’s a French celebration brought to Mobile around 1702 that falls just before the 40-day fast during Lent. The name “Mardi Gras” quite literally means “Fat Tuesday” and it was traditionally a large feast with lots of debauchery before a period of fasting that ends at Easter.
Now, Mardi Gras is an excuse for a full month of parades, parties, and exclusive events. The streets shut down for cars and the parades take over, tossing colorful beads, moon pies, and even packs of Ramen noodles at excited parade-goers. Mobile is known for having quite the gambit of parades and for being a bit more family-friendly than her Orleanian counterpart.
Mardi Gras Park
Mardi Gras Park was built as an homage to the birthplace of Mardi Gras and opened in 2016. The first phase of construction was worth around $2.5 million and honored Joe Cain, who revived Mardi Gras in Mobile after the Civil War.
Mardi Gras Park is quite central to downtown, located by Mobile Museum of History, GulfQuest, and Fort Conde. It also, of course, is quite central to Mardi Gras parade routes. Small statues of important Mardi Gras figures around the edge of the park tell the story of Mardi Gras.
Now, after five years of hosting Mardi Gras parades, Mardi Gras Park will be getting a much-needed facelift, at another $1.1 million.
Right off the bat, officials will be attacking the drainage issue at the park, spending about half the budget on resolving those issues. The rest of the budget will go towards landscaping (like adding gorgeous live oaks) and later construction of some entertainment stage.
According to Mayor Sandy Stimpson, this would likely be the last improvement for Mardi Gras park, meaning that the original idea of a fixed open-air market has been taken off the slate to simplify and speed up renovation.
These improvements were made largely possible with collaboration from the Hearin-Chandler Foundation, which contributed $600,000 to the project. The city will be providing the other $400,0000 to bring the million-dollar park to life.
Renovations for the park will have it closed through the Fourth of July, but the new-and-improved park should be open by the first post-COVID Mardi Gras party.
For now, anyone looking for a parade to tide them over until Mardi Gras, the city will be having a small parade on Friday, May 21st, to celebrate the commissioning of the USS Mobile, built locally at the Austal facility in Mobile.