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The good times of Mardi Gras are ready to roll in New Orleans-without licensed merchandise.

Primedia, Atlanta, has quietly abandoned plans to sell Mardi Gras sponsorships and licensed merchandise starting this year, under a multiyear contract signed in December 1993 with outgoing New Orleans Mayor Sidney Barthelemy.

Primedia President Mark Johnson said his company intends to continue the contract for other municipal marketing concepts "but not in regards to Mardi Gras sponsorships."

City Attorney Raju Haque said the city's position is that the contract isn't valid: "The mayor did not get council approval before signing the contract and it is against the law to give out a contract for more than one year. Also at issue is the fact that nobody owns Mardi Gras and therefore it cannot be licensed."

According to recently released figures from the Mayor's Mardi Gras Advisory Committee's Economic Impact Study, the 1994 festival had 3 million visitors and generated $660 million for the metropolitan area, up 16% from '93. The metro area collected $18.2 million in taxes, while the city gained $6.2 million. The 1995 festival takes place Feb. 17-28.

"It may be hard for outsiders to understand, but tradition is more important than money in our city," said Arthur Hardy, publisher of the annual Mardi Gras Guide. "The reaction to Primedia's plan was extremely negative since it was against tradition."

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