Carnival Cruise Lines signs 5-year extension with Port of New Orleans

July 9th, 2014

By Jed Lipinski, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

At least two Carnival Cruise Lines ships will continue sailing out of the Port of New Orleans year-round through 2019, according to a new five-year contract extension between the two entities.

The new agreement, which went into effect on July 1, supersedes a three-year extension negotiated in 2013. In addition to the five-year guarantee, the agreement comes with three one-year options that could keep Carnival operating out of the port through 2022.

“This is a clear demonstration of Carnival’s belief in New Orleans as one of its top home ports,” port president and CEO Gary LaGrange said.

“We greatly value the professionalism of our partners at the port, the ease of operating from New Orleans and the tremendous support we receive from the local community,” Gerry Cahill, president and CEO of Carnival, said in a statement.

New Orleans currently serves as the home port for two Carnival ships – the 3,646-passenger Carnival Dream and the 2,052-passenger Carnival Elation, both of which dock at the port’s Erato Street Terminal. Together, the two ships carry over 400,000 passengers each year from New Orleans, more than any other cruise line.

News of the agreement comes a month after Royal Caribbean International decided to end its cruise ship service from the port next year. In April, Royal Caribbean’s 2,360-passenger Serenade of the Seas, which now docks at the Julia Street Terminal, will relocate to Europe and offer cruises to Russia and Scandinavia.



The Economist, ranks Louisiana one of the best states in America to operate a small business

July 9th, 2014

According to a recent article in The Economist, Louisiana ranks as one of the best states in America to operate a small business, meriting a grade of “A.”

The ranking is based on a survey by Thumbtack, a a website that matches customers to businesses, and the Kauffman Foundation, a think-tank, which asked thousands of small businesses about local requirements for hiring, regulations, zoning, licenses, health insurance and training.

You can read the entire article here.  Below is a map of grades across the USA:



City Council to decide on Warehouse District hotel proposal

July 7th, 2014

Hotel would exceed restrictions in Warehouse District

BY JAQUETTA WHITE

theadvocate.com

The New Orleans City Council will be asked to reveal just how much weight it is willing to give to the city’s master plan for development when it considers this week whether to permit construction of a hotel in the Warehouse District that would exceed the maximum height allowed under both current and proposed new zoning rules for the site.

A newly formed coalition of residents and business owners in the Warehouse District and some adjacent neighborhoods is putting pressure on council members to reject the proposal, which already was turned down by the City Planning Commission and doesn’t have the support of the Downtown Development District.

At issue is a request for a waiver to the height restriction on 10 lots in the 600 block of Tchoupitoulas Street, bounded by Tchoupitoulas, Lafayette, Commerce and Girod streets. An interim zoning district restricts buildings in that block to five stories and 65 feet.

Fillmore Hospitality has proposed building a 178-room hotel, made up of two buildings, that would stand six stories and 65 feet on the side fronting Tchoupitoulas and 75 feet at an entrance facing Commerce Street.

The Cambria Suites hotel would include a restaurant and meeting rooms and would have a pedestrian entrance on Tchoupitoulas and an automobile drop-off on Commerce. Service and delivery trucks also would use an entrance on Commerce.

Fillmore owns and operates the Maison Dupuy Hotel on Toulouse Street and the New Orleans Marriott Metairie at Lakeway on Causeway Boulevard.

The newly formed group, known as Residents for Responsible Development, said allowing the project to move forward would send a message that the council is not serious about honoring the master plan or a nearly 2-year-old ordinance establishing the Lafayette Square/Warehouse District Refined Height Plan Interim Zoning District.

The result of a height study commissioned by the Downtown Development District, the interim zoning district establishes various height limitations for the area. It has served as a placeholder to guide development in the area until revisions to the city’s comprehensive zoning ordinance, which would give legal force to the land-use guidelines set forth in the city’s master plan, are adopted.

“The master plan very clearly sets forth a clear and predictable set of rules to say here’s what you can expect for zoning and development,” said Erin Biro, a Warehouse District resident and member of the residents’ group. “It takes away the City Council’s whim to approve or reject a project just at their discretion.”

The site is in Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell’s district. She is concerned about the project’s height, a spokesman for her office said, but has not decided whether to support it.

Spokesman David Winkler-Schmit said Cantrell is undecided because she recognizes the concerns of residents but believes “the developer has committed to working” on them. For instance, the developer has agreed to lop off 10 feet from the design that was presented to the City Planning Commission, though it still does not comply with the proposed or current zoning for the site.

The Tchoupitoulas Street site, owned by hotelier Warren Reuther, is now a surface parking lot. Fillmore is under contract to buy the property from Reuther, who would not own or operate the hotel. He described the project as “very small.”

“This little thing is going to be beautiful,” he said. “It’s only going to complement the neighborhood.”

In its report recommending denial of the request, the City Planning Commission staff disagreed, saying the development as proposed would diminish “the historic character of the area and set a precedent for other potential developments.” The staff also said the development would create more traffic in the neighborhood, particularly on Commerce Street, a minor artery with just one lane of traffic and no on-street parking, and would block out adjacent buildings’ access to light at certain times of day.

The version of the project considered by the Planning Commission proposed a height of 85 feet on Commerce Street.

The commission agreed with its staff’s findings and voted 5-0, with four commissioners absent, to deny the request.

Since that meeting, more than 250 individuals who live or work near the proposed development have signed a petition opposing it. The petition says residents are in favor of development and would support a project that matches the guidelines set forth in the zoning ordinance.

Max Ortiz, who owns the restaurant Root on Julia Street and lives in the Warehouse District, said the new hotel would put pressure on a neighborhood already struggling with parking problems. The conversion of the parking lot into a hotel would eliminate 60 parking spots, now used by another nearby hotel.

The proposed development site is surrounded by mostly low-rise, historic warehouse buildings. A one-story warehouse building, used for parking, flanks the parking lot on one side. A two-story building, which contains the bar Vic’s Kangaroo Cafe, sits on the other. The same block also includes several two- to four-story residential buildings and a 10-story parking garage.

Reuther said the hotel would not intrude on the neighborhood any more than the massive garage, which was built before the master plan was adopted.

But Biro said the zoning changes were established to protect the neighborhood from additional intrusive developments. The fact that this one would require a waiver of the current law means it should be dismissed, she said.

“The biggest point for us is asking the council to refer to the master plan and to not make an exemption for this building,” Biro said. “We feel that would create a very slippery slope.”



SOUTHWEST AIRLINES ADDS NEW DESTINATION FOR THANKSGIVING HOLIDAY

June 30th, 2014

For a limited time, Southwest to fly direct to San Antonio

The Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport is pleased to announce that Southwest Airlines, the major low cost carrier in New Orleans, has scheduled limited direct service to San Antonio for the 2014 Thanksgiving holiday season. Southwest will fly non-stop to San Antonio from New Orleans for four days aboard their 143 seat Boeing 737-700 aircraft. The dates for airline travel to the famous Texas destination are Tuesday, Nov. 25, Wednesday, Nov. 26, Sunday, Nov.30 and Monday, Dec. 1, 2014. The schedule for travel to the home of the famous Alamo for these dates is currently open for reservations at www.southwest.com or 1-800-435-9792.



July brings changes to Algiers-Canal Street ferry; input sought on Algiers bus service

June 26th, 2014

By Andrea Shaw, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

The beginning of improvements in Algiers ferry service, including extended hours, is coming in July. Starting Tuesday (July 1), passengers can buy monthly passes  at a cost of $65. And on July 21, the Canal Street line will expand its schedule from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m., Monday through Friday.

It will be the first major changes for the boats since Veolia Transportation Services took over operations in February.

Justin Augustine, vice president of France-based Veolia, said Wednesday the firm is embarking on new territory by providing waterborne transportation in the U.S for the first time. It operates ferries in France, the Netherlands, Norway and Australia, transporting 10.5 million passengers and 2.4 million vehicles annually on 76 vessels.

Augustine said his team will draw on that experience as well as relationships Veolia is building with ferry operators around the country in improving the Algiers lines.

Mark Major, Veolia’s chief investment officer, the addition of ferry service meshes well with the company’s public transit offerings. “It connects directly to eight existing bus routes and four streetcar routes. From transportation (standpoint), it’s a natural fit.”

Veolia manages the Regional Transit Authority’s buses and streetcar lines.

Meanwhile, RTA has scheduled an open house in Algiers July 15, to discuss improvements in bus service. The proposal includes the return of the Aurora line and schedule adjustments for the General Meyer and Algiers loop. That meeting will be held from 4:30 p.m. until 7 p.m. at the Algiers Regional Library on Holiday Drive.

“Algiers residents have always been supportive,” Augustine said. “We appreciate their support. More importantly, we want to recognize their need and work toward providing the services they ask us to.”




New Orleans City Council Transportation Committee

June 24th, 2014

To view streaming video of the New Orleans City Council Transportation Committee Meeting from June 24, 2014  visit  nolacitycouncil.com .



Magazine ranks New Orleans area 2nd for economic development successes in South

June 20th, 2014

By Mark Waller, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

New Orleans came in second for the major metropolitan area with the most economic development successes in the South over the past 20 years in a survey by Southern Business & Development Magazine (article begins on page 62). Charlotte, North Carolina, topped the list.

The magazine awards cities points based on the number of new business projects they attracted and the sizes of those projects according to the jobs and investment amounts secured. The New Orleans region lands into the class of areas with populations between 750,000 and 2 million people.

While the survey covers 1995 to 2014, in a message celebrating the rating, Michael Hecht, president of the GNO, Inc., economic development group, said, “what is more remarkable, per publisher Mike Randle, is that Greater New Orleans had virtually no wins in the period before Hurricane Katrina, nor for three years after, meaning that nearly all of this performance has been concentrated in only the past five years.”

Hecht quoted Ron Starner of Site Selection magazine saying, “You are on a roll that is completely unprecedented in American history.”



NOLA hotels see more revenue, guests in May

June 18th, 2014

By: Maria Clark, Reporter CityBusiness

June 18, 2014

The month of May saw revenue increases and greater occupancy for New Orleans hotels.

Tourism market research firm STR reports that hotel occupancy rates in the New Orleans area grew by 4 percent to 74 percent in May compared to the same time last year.

To read the full story visit CityBusiness.



Online travel agency finds New Orleans is the top 4th of July destination for its clients

June 17th, 2014

By Mark Waller, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

The online travel agency CheapOair reports New Orleans is the top destination its clients are booking for the 4th of July weekend. It found the average round-trip airfare for New Orleans for that weekend is $493.24, which is 15 percent higher than last year, although the agency found fares to be lower nationwide with an average less than $400.

Following New Orleans on the domestic travel list are Seattle, Boston, Atlanta, San Diego, Orlando, Denver, Los Angeles, New York and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

But more people this year are planning international trips around July 4th compared with 2013, with an increase of 50 percent, the survey found. It listed the top international destination as Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.



Ernest N. Morial Convention Center looks to lure private developers for future riverfront

June 13th, 2014

By Katherine Sayre, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center is pinning its hopes for the future on a plan to transform the city’s riverfront, turning 47 acres of unused land upriver from the Crescent City Connection into a landmark hotel with nearby retail, entertainment, housing and a waterfront public park.

Convention center President and CEO Bob Johnson said he and other officials are calling it “the neighborhood.”

“Our mission is to create economic impact through meetings and conventions and develop facilities that enhance meetings and conventions,” Johnson said. “We think all of this becomes an attractive component for enticing meetings and conventions and gives our attendees and meeting planners more opportunities to enjoy New Orleans.”

The strategy hinges on a key factor: whether private developers are willing to invest up to $750 million – or even $1 billion – to bring “the neighborhood” to life.

Gov. Bobby Jindal this week signed into law legislation giving the Ernest N. Morial New Orleans Exhibition Hall Authority the allowance to issue bonds toward that goal.

Johnson said the convention center plans to spend between $150 million and $175 million – from a combination of bonds, cash reserves and state capital outlay money – to improve the exterior of the convention center and build infrastructure upriver to lure developers.

The center plans to revamp Convention Center Boulevard and overhaul traffic flow in and around the neighboring Warehouse District, a collection of one-way streets. Cars, port container trucks, commuters, taxis, buses and convention visitors on-foot now all converge on the four-lane Convention Center Boulevard.

Johnson said there have been several accidents and even convention attendees struck by cars.

Under the new plan, a landscaped pedestrian plaza would be built out from the 1.1 million-square-foot center, while traffic lanes would be reduced from two lanes each-way, to one lane each-way. A third lane would be dedicated to taxis and buses.

A moving walkway, such as in airport terminals, would stretch the length of the center. Johnson said plans initially included light rail, but that option was excluded because of costs. The moving walkway will address the No. 1 concern reported by visitors: how far they have to trudge down the elongated center.

A central transit hub would streamline taxi cab and bus service, he said.

The center is working with traffic consultants, the state Department of Transportation and Development, the Regional Planning Commission, and the Port of New Orleans to come up with a new traffic design, Johnson said.

Meanwhile, within the next two weeks, the center will be issuing a “request for interest” to find either a master developer or several companies interested in creating a mixed-use neighborhood on the river, he said.

The major component is a full-service hotel. While there are many limited-service hotels at different prices around the convention center, some conventions demand a connected or adjacent full-service hotel, Johnson said. “This is the biggest convention facility in the country without a headquarters hotel,” he said. A growing list of competitors – Nashville, Austin, Houston, Dallas, Charlotte and others – can offer that amenity, he said.

Retail outlets, apartments or condos, dining and entertainment also are on the table, he said. The convention center also will consider building a corporate conference center – a large area of upscale meeting space for companies to bring their executives together – that would link to the hotel.

The legislation allows for the exhibition authority to issue bonds to pay for all of the infrastructure and make the area “a build-ready pad for private development,” Johnson said.

The center is also in talks with Tulane University over the development of university-owned riverfront land. Johnson said he would like to see a riverfront section that combines academics and a public park and event area. Tulane has previously announced it is developing a riverfront campus.

Michael Blum, Tulane University professor and director of the Tulane-Xavier Center for Bioenvironmental Research, said specific plans for the campus are focused now on a Tulane River and Coastal Center to begin construction this fall and open in April. The campus will have 10,000 square feet of new space combined with 10,000 square feet of an existing warehouse. The campus will be used for research, education, public forums and a business incubator for companies focused on coastal and water issues, he said.

As for developing a riverfront park, Blum said the university is “interested in discussing those possibilities but there have been no decisions made about what the rest of the property will end up being used for.”

He said the new campus will promote public engagement and increased public access to the waterfront, which ties in with the convention center’s plans.

“We value what they’re doing tremendously, and we certainly want to participate and be a strong partner with them,” Blum said.

Private developers have grown increasingly interested in downtown New Orleans. The Howard Hughes Corp. spent $80 million turning the three-decade-old Riverwalk into an outlet mall in hopes of attracting locals, tourists, cruise ship passengers and convention visitors. The South Market District, a $200 million mixed-use development off of Loyola Avenue downtown, is under construction. The area of barren surface parking lots is being transformed into apartments, sidewalk cafés and shopping. And the conversion of old office towers into apartments has set off a housing boom.

The area the convention center hopes to develop stretches from the upriver end of the meeting hall to the Market Street power plant, which has sat unused, in the hands of developers, for several years. Plans for turning it into mega-sports store Bass Pro Shop fell through.

Commercial real estate broker Robert Hand said that riverfront area needs a large development to make it work – but people who want to come to New Orleans and spend that kind of money “are few and far between.”

“You have a gorgeous opportunity, but somebody has got to out and pull in qualified people to spend $200 million to make it happen, at least, for a hotel and shopping center,” Hand said.

“The city’s got to put that land back into commerce first, and that will overflow to the adjacent private property owners,” he said.

The convention center has been working on its plans for two years. Last year, Jindal vetoed similar legislation giving the go-ahead. That bill also included plans for redeveloping or demolishing the former World Trade Center building.

Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, who sponsored the legislation both years, said this time around, the bill was focused only on the convention center. He said he’s confident private investment will come through, given New Orleans’ recent economic growth, including increased sales tax revenues and job gains.

“We think that our convention center is very competitive but each and every year our competitors around the country are making major investments in their facilities and their attractions for visitors,” Leger said. “We have to step up our game too.”

Johnson said through the legislative process last year, he was able to gather interest from developers who have been waiting on the sidelines for the bill to be approved. There have even been talks with a marine developer on the possibility of creating a yacht marina at the site, he said.

Eight years ago, the convention center scrapped a $450 million plan to add 525,000 square feet of traditional meeting space on its upriver land. Hurricane Katrina struck, and convention center bookings evaporated as groups were scared off.

“We didn’t know how long it would take to recover,” Johnson said. “Groups were skittish about coming to New Orleans or committing to coming to New Orleans because of that irrational fear of hurricanes interrupting their meetings.

“My thoughts were, what can we do to make the existing facilities more attractive, so we can begin to regain our market share?”

Last year, the convention center wrapped up a $50 million renovation building The Great Hall – named after the location’s original use in the 1984 World’s Fair – and creating a modern entryway at the Julia Street end. That followed $93 million in interior improvements to the facility over five years.

Johnson said other than that work, and the newly renovated Riverwalk, there hasn’t been much new investment along the center’s corridor.

He said he hopes to see the work done, or underway, by the city’s tri-centennial celebration in 2018.



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