New Orleans Convention Center

Riverfront district needs agreement between developer, Convention Center

By Andrew Valenti

Source: New Orleans CityBusiness

February 18, 2022

A preliminary agreement between the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and the master developer selected to transform 39 acres upriver from the facility into a mixed-use neighborhood could be finalized in the next few months.

Michael Sawaya, president of the Convention Center, said the Exhibition Hall Authority, the entity that runs the Convention Center, and River District Neighborhood Investors LLC are targeting the Authority’s April meeting to present a draft agreement outlining the terms of the deal between the two parties.

The agreement would involve a land lease, timing and a process for completion of the master plan to develop the area into a mix of entertainment, housing and more. The $1 billion proposal, initially released last year, includes a civil rights museum, retail, open-air spaces, a boutique hotel, a tech campus, a music venue, movie theater and 1,100 residences – 450 of which will be offered as affordable and workforce housing.

The project also will include a redevelopment of the historic Market Street Power Plant, which was purchased earlier this month for an undisclosed price by River District Neighborhood Investors LLC, comprised of Elmwood-based Lauricella Land Company, Brian Gibbs Development, Dallas-based Cypress Equities and others.

Built in 1902, the plant has seven separate buildings with over 160,000 square feet of space, plus additional vacant land. New Orleans hotelier Joe Jaeger put it up for sale in 2020 for $16.9 million, and the news release announcing its purchase said he will be involved in the property’s redevelopment.

Louis Lauricella, managing member of Lauricella Land Company, said Jaeger retained one of the parcels and also owns additional neighboring property such as Mardi Gras World, a joint venture between Jaeger and Barry Kern, president and CEO of Kern Studios and Mardi Gras World. Initial plans call to redevelop the plant into a hub for entertainment, retail, restaurants, hotel and office space.

Other property surrounding the riverfront development is owned by the Port of New Orleans and Tulane University.

Lauricella said there are no more specific plans to share about the redevelopment at this time, but added that “Our joint venture will continue to work collaboratively with all partners – including Joe Jaeger, the River District team, the Port, Tulane and the Convention Center – on the development of the Market Street Power Plant and surrounding acres.”

Jaeger did not respond to a request for comment regarding the sale of the plant or his level of involvement with its redevelopment.

The riverfront neighborhood at this time does not include a 1,200-room headquarters hotel for the Convention Center, which was proposed but put on hold as the COVID-19 pandemic slowed the city’s tourism industry. Texas-based Matthews Southwest Hospitality and local businessman Darryl Berger were named as developers.

The hotel faced questions from the watchdog group Bureau of Governmental Research, which said it would have garnered hundreds of millions of dollars in property and sales tax exemptions and other subsidies over a number of decades.

A hotel “remains a top strategic priority for the Authority,” Sawaya said, although its size and scope are not yet known. The Convention Center has “had ongoing discussions with investors, major hotel brands and our selected developer,” he added.

“As the hospitality industry begins to stabilize post-pandemic, we are encouraged by the renewed interest of the private sector and hope to report more progress in the coming months,” Sawaya said.

River District Neighborhood Investors LLC’s vision for the area was made public last year when the group was selected to lead the development, beating out Muse Landing, a joint venture of Woodward, Leventhal and Carpenter & Company headed by Woodward Design+Build president Paul Flower.

According to documents filed with the Convention Center, phase one would consist of 600 mixed-income housing units, an outdoor event and public square space dubbed “Batture Square,” a 2,500-seat live music venue, a movie theater, more than 100,000 square feet of retail and restaurant offerings, parking structures and a 150-room boutique hotel. The second phase would culminate with the remainder of the residential units, 30,000 square feet of retail and a 750,000-square-foot corporate/tech campus designed to appeal to a younger demographic.

The Convention Center is also in the midst of a $557 million capital improvement plan launched in 2018 to upgrade the facility through new meeting rooms, restrooms, technology upgrades, exhibit hall lighting enhancements and a new roof.

Work has been completed on a $60 million Linear Park along Convention Center Boulevard in front of the facility. This year, Broadmoor and AECOM Hunt are set to work in a joint venture to replace the aging, 40-acre roof at a cost of $40 million and also upgrade 140 meeting rooms.

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