By Adam Thorp
City leaders hope a new annual event will put Louisiana on the menu for tourists from across the region — alongside ribs and brisket.
They hope a barbecue contest and associated celebrations in June will become a new feature on the city’s calendar, joining Colorfest in the fall as a yearly attraction for visitors.
“Ribs on the River” is a project of the Louisiana Visitors and Convention Bureau, a government body supported by a tax on overnight accommodations in Louisiana, and the Louisiana Municipal Corporation, a non-profit run by the city.
It has been sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society, a leading organizer of competitive barbecue events. Their sign-off is meant to validate the contest in the eyes of top-flight barbecuers and qualified barbecue judges from across the country, and means the winner will be a “state champion” eligible to participate in the organization’s world championships.
Event organizers are hoping to attract 20 professional teams to the contest. The lure: a prize pool of about $10,000, to be divided among the top contestants.
The teams will turn in chicken, ribs, pork butt, and beef brisket to the judges. Two contest representatives from the Kansas City Barbecue Society, Jean Titus and Charlie Brinza, will oversee the process.
Brinza, who has been in town to help the committee in its preparations, said this week that he feels the event is proceeding a pace on the two crucial elements of success in his experience: solicitation of sponsorships and community involvement.
“Now we’ve had other folks where, say, a church group tries to put something together, and 20 people show up out of the church and that’s it,” Brinza said. “Getting the community involved to have them see what competition barbecue is about is a huge step to getting the community involvement that will keep it growing for years to come.”
The idea was suggested by Susan Fregeau, a member of the LCVB who previously lived in a Chicago suburb with a similar event. Mayor Marvin Price, who had previously participated in competitive barbecue events with his son and some friends, jumped at the possibility.
“It’s another attempt to showcase Louisiana, because we think it’s a great little town, and the more people who get up here and see it [the better]. And bringing business to town, to the extent we can, is good for local folks,” to the extent they spend money in the area, Price said.
Members of the committee planning the barbecue are tentatively set to visit a contest in another Missouri town in the first week of May.
At Tuesday’s meeting of the LCVB members voted to budget $4,500 for the event and discussed their promotional strategies. Members said they hope the event will draw a wider geographical range of tourists to Louisiana, and discussed targeting social media advertisements at cities across the midwest, including St. Louis, Chicago, and Des Moines.
The mission of the LVCB is to draw visitors to town, preferably to stay overnight, which tends to mean they will spend much more money into the local economy, according to LVCB member John Wichterman. The state defines tourists as people who come from more than 50 miles away, a group that organizers hope will be attracted by “Ribs on the River.”
Organizers are currently soliciting sponsorships for the event, which receive further funding from those sponsorships and entry fees paid by competitors. Proceeds from the event will benefit the City’s police and fire departments.
The event will also feature an amateur’s contest, designed with a low entry fee to attract local barbecue enthusiasts. Price also said organizers were considering putting on a “People’s Choice Award,” vied for by different civic groups and voted on by attendees instead of the judges certified by the Kansas City Barbecue Society.
People with questions about the event can contact Crouch at 916-397-9488 or by email at email@example.com.
The event is scheduled to start the evening of Friday, June 21 with live music and food sales. The competition will take place Saturday, June 22 alongside more live music.
The event is planned to take place around Louisiana’s municipal building and on Main St. between South Carolina St. and Georgia St.
In addition to planning for Ribs on the River, the members of the Louisiana Visitors and Convention Bureau voted to have Crouch reach out to City Council about encouraging prompt payment of the so-called “rack tax,” an assessment on overnight accommodations that funds much of the bureau’s operations.
Members also discussed plans to add the city’s tourism website, visitlouisianamo.com, to signage leading into town.
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