New Orleans Convention Center

Convention Center hotel discussions to resume

By Tommy Santora

Source: New Orleans CityBusiness

September 12, 2022

A headquarter hotel for the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, planned prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and shelved as a shutdown of the city began, will be revived for discussion at a Sept. 21 board meeting, according to Michael Sawaya, Convention Center president.

Tom Hazinski, managing director of HVS Convention, Sports & Entertainment Facilities Consulting, which conducted an initial study of the hotel in 2018, is expected to deliver an updated one to the Exhibition Hall Authority Board.

The hotel would be connected to the furthest upriver hall of the Convention Center and developed by Texas-based Matthews Southwest Hospitality and local businessman Darryl Berger. It has previously been proposed as a 1,200-room, Omni-branded hotel.

The concept has been on hold for more than two years as tourism took a dive, but now that the Convention Center is at approximately 90% of pre-pandemic levels, it’s time to revisit the plan, said Sawaya.

“We look forward to presenting the new study to the Board Authority, and then from there we will begin discussions again with our developer to revisit the plans for the hotel,” Sawaya said. “Our convention and visitor business has rebounded a lot more rapidly than we previously expected, so the study will show there is a definite need for a hotel to connect to our convention center, as is the case in many big cities. The lack of having a hotel attached to our Center is a critical missing factor that would bring much more activity and keep us competitive.”

The Convention Center hosted 125 events a year before the pandemic. In 2021, it hosted 65 events, and in 2022, the Center reports 100 events on the calendar.

The hotel has faced financing questions due to property and sales tax exemptions and other subsidies in its financing package. In late 2019, Convention Center officials announced newly-negotiated terms.

In April 2020, the Bureau of Governmental Research released a report suggesting that the public’s financial contribution should be reduced and calling for the hotel to be postponed until tourism rebounded. BGR officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the new discussions.

The hotel is only one part of a massive, ongoing makeover of the Convention Center and its surrounding area.

Work continues on a $557-million Capital Improvement Plan launched in 2018 to upgrade the 40-year-old facility through new meeting rooms, restrooms, technology upgrades, exhibit hall lighting enhancements, a new roof, renovations to Convention Center Boulevard and a new 7.5-acre pedestrian park.

NANO LLC is the architect of record for Stage 1 of the improvements and has been selected as architect of record for a $180 million, Stage 2 project to replace large portions of the facility’s pre-function space with new design and amenities, a new main entrance to the Center and a large ballroom on a newly created third level overlooking the Mississippi River.

“We are progressing very well in all our projects within our capital improvement plan,” Sawaya said. “These are all necessary steps toward the goal of a completely transformed meeting and event facility that delivers an event meeting destination that our city deserves and will enhance our competitiveness for years to come.”

Convention Center officials recently reached an agreement with developers of a $1 billion mixed-use, riverfront neighborhood adjacent to the facility that would include 900 housing units, dining, retail and entertainment.

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