NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- The 19th annual Essence Festival is over, but planners for Essence and the city of New Orleans say they've already started work on the next one.
The festival's contract with the city ends after the 2014 event, which will mark its 20th year. Michelle Ebanks, president of Essence Communications Inc., said work on next year's festival has already begun.
"It began about six weeks ago and we're very excited," Ebanks said at a news conference Monday alongside Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Joy Collins, Essence's general manager. "It's going to be hard to top this year's festival and we will enjoy (the 19th) for just a little longer before we jump full force into next year."
"Essence is coming back and hopefully it will be here forever," said Landrieu who noted the current contract is in place through 2014. "I imagine we'll begin talking about what's next sometime next year."
The four-day festival set a record, drawing more than 540,000 visitors to the city to participate in its free daily empowerment seminars at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and nightly ticketed concerts at the Superdome.
Last year, the festival added a fourth day and drew a total of 413,000 attendees with a lineup that included Aretha Franklin, Mary J. Blige, Chaka Khan and D'Angelo. That was down slightly from the 422,000 who gathered for the festival in 2011, when it ran for three days.
A sold-out performance by Beyonce closed this year's festival, which also featured singers Charlie Wilson, Maxwell, New Edition, Jill Scott, Brandy, Trey Songz, Janelle Monae, Keyshia Cole and many others.
Landrieu said the festival also drew more than 55,000 to Woldenberg Park, along the bank of the Mississippi River, for its first-ever Family Reunion Day held on the 4th of July.
"Every year, it grows and grows. I don't think they're even close to reaching its potential in terms of size and what it could be," Landrieu said.
Tourism officials estimated the economic impact at well over $100 million. Precise numbers were not available, but the mayor's office said Monday that local hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions reported brisk business.
Drago's restaurant, inside the Hilton, sold 37,000 of its signature charbroiled oysters, the mayor said.
"That's a lot of oysters," Landrieu said.
Hotel occupancy was at 97 percent for the weekend and Landrieu said the city's airport reported that planes were near capacity Monday with 17,742 departures.
"That's a good indication of how incredibly packed the city was," Landrieu said.
Ebanks said they were "very pleased" with the attendance.
"This year's record-breaking attendance is a testament to our purpose," she said. "This is just an extraordinary experience for our magazine to come to life. We had a chance to bring those stories to life."
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