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Will the Mardi Gras World barge accident delay 2019 float production?

Updated ; Posted
Mardi Gras World float construction on track despite barge wreck
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By Doug MacCash

NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

Barry Kern, the President of Kern Studios, the maker of most of New Orleans' Mardi Gras floats, said that the company is on schedule, despite a barge accident that badly damaged the riverfront headquarters. On May 7, a Mississippi River tugboat lost steering, allowing several barges to collide with the huge riverfront warehouse that houses Kern's Mardi Gras World float building complex.

"As the barges came in, they broke the pilings and caused the wharf structure to fall in," New Orleans Fire Department Superintendent Tim McConnell said of the incident. "The structure on top then caved in. No one was inside the building at the time."

The part of Mardi Gras world that was most affected was the prop shop, a 10,000-square-foot area where a team of artists once created the giant plastic foam and papier-mache sculptures of historical characters, rock stars, mythological gods, cartoon creatures, exotic animals and other objects that ornament floats.

The wall of the prop shop now sags downward, with bent metal beams, broken windows and skewed doors. The fallen concrete wharf and the lapping waters of the Mississippi River can be seen through an ominous gap at the edge of the warehouse floor. A new set of emergency steel columns has stabilized the tarp-covered roof, and a new 30-foot-tall sheet metal wall separates the damaged prop shop from the rest of the building.

Barry Kern's son, Vice President of Operations Fitz Kern, who led a tour of the damage, explained that the new wall would allow repairs to proceed on the river side of the warehouse without affecting the rest of the operation. There's no schedule yet for repairs.

Fitz Kern said it took approximately two weeks to move the prop shop studio away from the damaged wall of the warehouse, further into the interior of the space where work could begin again.

The collision "certainly affected our production, " Barry Kern said, "but we have the  workaround in order." 

Barry Kern said he has no idea yet what the repairs to Mardi Gras World will cost, but the figure will certainly run into the millions. He said his company rents the damaged wharf upon which the warehouse stands from the Port of New Orleans. Kern pointed out that despite the disruption, the timing could have been worse. There are still nine months before Mardi Gras 2019.

The artists and builders at Mardi Gras World will work on floats for 19 local parades, Barry Kern said, including the best-known processions, such as Endymion, Bacchus, Muses, Zulu and Rex. Plus, he said, props for parades across the country are also produced at the site.

In addition to being a float building factory, Mardi Gras World is a tourist destination and event venue. Those functions have been restored. Online retail giant Amazon has rented the enormous space for a convention event later in June. 

Doug MacCash has the best job in the world, covering art, music, and culture in New Orleans. Contact him via email at 

dmaccash@nola.com. Follow him on 

Twitter at Doug MacCash and on 

Facebook at Douglas James MacCash. As always, please add your point of view to the comment stream.

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