New Orleans Convention Center

Officials say Convention Center hotel will bring jobs and tourism; some residents aren’t sold

By Kaylee Poche

Source: Gambit

October 22, 2019

At a public meeting Monday night, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center’s governing body touted its plans for a $557 million hotel as a project that would bring jobs and tourism dollars to the city. But a few residents questioned if the benefits of the hotel would outweigh its costs, which would be partially funded by taxpayer dollars.

The 1,200-room Omni Hotel would include a rooftop pool, 150,000 square feet of meeting and ballroom space, a bar, a fitness center and a spa. Exhibition Hall Authority officials say they expect to complete the design in 2020 and begin construction in 2021, with the hotel opening in 2024.

In June, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law a deal between the state, city and tourism leaders outlining the terms of the Convention Center hotel. Among the terms was a provision requiring the Convention Center to give the city $28 million from its reserves to go toward its infrastructure needs and an agreement that the hotel would only receive property-tax breaks for a few years.

“The bill, when authored and finally passed was supported unanimously by all members of the Legislature — Democrats, Republicans and Independents,” State Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, said of the bill he authored. “I believe that it achieved some very important things that each member of the Legislature from every geographic location across the state felt was important.”

Proponents of the hotel point toward consulting firm’s HVS Global Hospitality Services 2018 study which estimated the project would bring 1,900 permanent jobs to the city and have a $282 million economic impact annually.

But Anne Milling said that convention centers across the country are not generating as much money or as many out-of-state tourists as they did in the past with the internet allowing people to livestream presentations. Milling said the project was a “folly” and “a far cry” from its original mission of spurring “economic development by hosting trade shows and conventions.”

“Rather than acknowledge this change in paradigm, today the commission is suddenly modifying its mission,” she said. “No longer is it just about trade shows and conventions, but rather it now wants to be an entrepreneur, a developer, a kingmaker today. But the commission wants to build hotels, parking garages, entertainment centers and even a golf driving range with taxpayer dollars and public subsidies.”

Milling said that the money would be better put toward the city’s Sewerage & Water Board and other infrastructure issues.

Erika Zucker, a policy advocate at Loyola University’s Workplace Justice Project, said she didn’t have a position on the hotel development but recommended a community benefits agreement to ensure that workers at the new hotel would have “quality long-term living wage jobs.”

“There was $4.7 billion in tourism revenue in the last reporting, yet workers who work in the tourism industry and the service industries and related industries in this city still continue to live in poverty,” she said.

Around 60 people were in the audience but many were from organizations, like New Orleans & Company, that were in favor of the project and had worked with the Convention Center previously. The authority did not answer questions about the project, though attendees asked many.

Stephen Stuart, vice president of the Bureau of Governmental Research, a local nonprofit that evaluates public policy, recommended that the Convention Center board hold more public meetings and inform residents if public resources are a necessary and effective means to complete the project.

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