New Orleans airport announces new non-stops to Branson, Cincinnati and Cancun

January 29th, 2015

By Jed Lipinski, | The Times-Picayune

Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport is getting three new non-stop flights to Branson, Mo., Cincinnati, Ohio, and Cancun, Mexico.

Starting May 6, Branson AirExpress, operated by Orange Air, will offer flights from New Orleans to the above cities on a 150 seat MD-83 jet aircraft, airport officials announced Wednesday morning.

Discount flights to Branson, Cincinnati and Cancun can be purchased now through or Flights to the first two cities start at an “introductory fare” of $99, and flights to Cancun start at $199.

Iftikhar Ahmad, director of aviation for the airport, said the announcement brings the number of non-stop destinations out of New Orleans to 45, a new record for the airport. A total of 13 airlines now operate out of Armstrong.

Recruiting the new airline took years. Ahmed said he first approached Branson AirExpress about flying out of New Orleans in July of 2010.

“We’re continually talking to international and domestic airlines, preparing route analyses for them and showing how many customers are available,” he said. “It can take a while before they come around.”

$75M deal includes three hotels, garage

January 26th, 2015

By: Robin Shannon, Reporter, City Business

A New York investment firm recently closed on its purchase of three Hampton Inn properties in the New Orleans area and a six-story downtown garage in a deal worth more than $75 million.

Through an LLC known as BRE Nola Property Owner, The Blackstone Group bought the 288-room Hampton Inn & Suites Convention Center, 1201 Convention Center Blvd., for $24.9 million; the 100-room Hampton Inn Garden District, 3626 St. Charles Ave., for $12.9 million; the 210-room Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown French Quarter, 226 Carondelet St., for $22.5 million; and the EZ-Park parking garage at 310 Carondelet St., for $15.4 million.

The purchase closed Thursday and was filed as four separate transactions registered with Orleans Parish on Friday.

The seller in all four transactions was Highpointe Hotel Corp. LLC of Gulf Breeze, Florida. The company also owns Hampton Hotels in Elmwood and Baton Rouge. It’s not immediately known if those hotels were included as part of the deal.

For full article visit City Business

Uber legalization ordinances proposed by New Orleans City Council members

January 23rd, 2015

By Robert McClendon, | The Times-Picayune

New Orleans drivers would be able to use their vehicles as part-time taxicabs, dispatched through “ride-sharing” phone applications such as Uber and Lyft under a newly proposed ordinances before the City Council. Council members Susan Guidry and Jared Brossett have each sponsored measures that would let “transportation network companies” that follow certain rules hire drivers who use their personal vehicles.

Guidry and Brossett said that the City Council has been discussing ride-sharing since last summer, when it legalized app-based transportation for hire, and time has come to act.

“The for-hire transportation industry is changing. In many ways it is changing for the better,” Brossett said. “New technology and new ways of of operating are providing new options for citizens.”

Tom Hayes, general manager for Uber New Orleans, called the ordinance “a step in the right direction by introducing regulations that support ride sharing in New Orleans. We look forward to working together to move sensible legislation across the finish line and provide New Orleanians with the opportunity and choice they deserve.” Hayes did not comment on the substance of the ordinance or its provisions, which were only recently made public.

Ride-sharing has sparked controversy in cities around the globe, as critics raise concerns about safety for riders and fairness to established taxicab companies and drivers, which tend to operate under strict regulations and are often subject to extreme barriers to entry. In New York, the city issued so few taxi medallions, which give cabbies the right to operate, that a pair of them sold for $1 million each in 2011. As Uber established itself in the car-for-hire market, the price of medallions plummeted.

Uber in particular has been called out for its aggressive business practices and the sometimes disdainful comments of its executives.

Those issues and more have been debated at length in public hearings before the City Council.

Guidry said in a statement that it’s time to act.

“This is an issue we must deal with, and my goal is to ensure that we adopt clear and common-sense policies,” Guidry said. “My ordinance seeks to embrace this new technology and ensure public safety and consumer protection.”

The measures on offer from Guidry and Brossett include some broadly similar regulations. Both would require companies to:

  • Obtain permits and pay an annual fee.
  • Conduct criminal background checks on drivers in its network and keep a list of them on file.
  • Perform vehicle inspections on the cars used by its drivers.
  • Place logos on cars while they are in service.
  • Have commercial liability insurance.

They differ when it comes to details, however. Guidry’s ordinance would set the fee for a license at $100,000, while Brossett’s sets it at $75,000.

They would also handle the insurance requirement differently. While both demand the companies have commercial liability insurance on vehicles when they are in service, Guidry’s ordinance expressly declares any personal insurance carried by the driver to be inapplicable for accidents that occur when the driver is working for hire.  Either the driver or the company must have commercial insurance specifically written to cover drivers working for companies like Uber or Lyft.

Brossett’s would require the companies to have the same kind of insurance as those of a traditional cab company.

They also handle “surge” pricing differently. Uber’s signature pricing system, surge pricing automatically raises fares during times of peak demand.

Uber has taken heat for its pricing practices in the past, especially during disasters or other emergencies. When prices spiked ahead of Hurricane Sandy’s landfall on the East Coast, critics accused the company of price gouging.

In the ensuing public relations debacle, Uber agreed to cap its surge pricing during emergencies.

In Sydney, Australia, no such cap existed in December when a gunman took hostages at a cafe in the heart of the city. Prices spiked, prompting another backlash that forced the company to issue refunds.

Such responsive pricing schemes would be prohibited during emergencies, under Guidry’s ordinance. Brossett caps rates in general, whether or not there is an emergency. Drivers could charge no more than at 1.5 times the average rates charged during the preceding three months.

Now that the ordinances have been formally introduced, they are likely to head to the transportation committee for debate and amendments.

“We’ll just look at them and take the best ideas from both of them,” said Brossett. “We are working toward the same thing.”

The City Council previously opened the door to Uber-Black, the company’s up-market offering. But ride sharing, in which people use their own cars as transportation for hire, remained illegal.

Jefferson Parish also is considering allowing ride sharing services.

Warehouse District hotel gains design approval

January 23rd, 2015

By Greg LaRose, Editor, City Business

Plans to build a new hotel on a Warehouse District parking lot continue to move forward as the Historic District Landmarks Commission granted design approval for the project.

During a meeting Wednesday, the commission also approved demolition of a small building remnant to make way for the 108,000-square-foot development.

Filmore Hospitality wants to build a seven-story, 162-room Cambria Suites hotel on an L-shaped surface parking lot at 632 Tchoupitoulas St. The $19 million hotel would occupy a 65-space parking lot that Filmore purchased in July from local hotelier Warren Reuther for $4.3 million, according to Orleans Parish Assessor’s records. Reuther, who has backed other hotel projects, is not involved in the development.

Filmore Hospitality is based in California and Ohio.

The hotel, which was designed by Holly and Smith Architects, would include a full service restaurant and meeting space on the ground floor and six additional floors each with 27 guestrooms.

For full story visit City Business

Family sells third CBD hotel within a year

January 21st, 2015

By: Robin Shannon, Reporter, City Business

The steady pace of hotel transactions in the New Orleans area continues into 2015 as another Central Business District property has changed hands.

A Connecticut hotel development firm made its first acquisition in the New Orleans market with the purchase of the 103-room Comfort Inn at 346 Baronne St. for $9 million. The transaction closed Jan. 15, according to Orleans Parish Conveyance records.

The buyer is listed as New Orleans Hotel Equity, which is linked to New Castle Hotels and Resorts of Shelton, Connecticut.

According to a news release, New Castle is planning a $10 million renovation and rebranding of the hotel that is expected to be complete by spring 2016.

For full article visit City Business

State police plan deployment of 150 for New Orleans’ Mardi Gras

January 21st, 2015

By Jonathan Bullington, | The Times-Picayune

A deployment of 150 Louisiana State Police troopers and Department of Public Safety officers will descend on the New Orleans area to assist the city’s police force during Mardi Gras, authorities announced Wednesday (Jan. 21).

LSP Superintendent Col Mike Edmonson and NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison are scheduled to meet next week to finalize plans for the deployment. But authorities said the LSP contingent would likely include uniformed officers in the French Quarter and CBD, as well as increased traffic patrols and plain-clothed officers focused on weapons, drugs and human trafficking offenses.

“While we have provided carnival support for more than three-and-a-half decades, our commitment and assistance to the police department goes back even further,” Edmonson said in a release. “Lest we forget, troopers have a presence in the city each and every day, and my command officers are continually engaged in communications and complimentary law enforcement operations throughout the year.”

Calls from Mayor Mitch Landrieu for a permanent deployment of troopers in New Orleans have been met with a consistent reply from Edmonson, and his comments in announcing the state police Mardi Gras deployment continued that refrain.

“I wish we could do more. However, we have responsibilities to communities large and small across the state that also celebrate Mardi Gras,” Edmonson said in the release. “Indeed none of our support would be possible without the help we receive from the state’s 64 sheriffs and over 330 police chiefs.

“I have to acknowledge that it would simply not be possible to take officers from the various troops around the state if we could not rely on local agencies to supplement our calls for service. And for that I am grateful.”

Boomtown Casino $20 million hotel opens in Harvey

January 21st, 2015

By Katherine Sayre, | The Times-Picayune

A few dozen dignitaries gathered on the banks of the Harvey Canal on Wednesday to celebrate a $20 million hotel at Boomtown Casino New Orleans, a project that casino owners and local politicians hope will attract more gamblers and spur tax revenues.

The 150-room, five-story hotel, built over the past two years on Peters Road, overlooks Boomtown Casino, which previously had no hotel on the property.

Harold Rowland, Boomtown vice president and general manager, said the idea of a hotel stretches back to when the casino first opened. The finished product represents the casino staying competitive, he said, adding amenities for visitors and addressing declining revenues.

“It’s about staying relevant in this business,” Rowland said.

Gamblers at Boomtown New Orleans lost $113.2 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30, down 9 percent from $124.8 million the previous year, according to state records.

Looking over the past eight years, Boomtown’s revenues have fallen by nearly half. In the 2005-06 fiscal year, according to state records, Boomtown’s adjusted gross revenue was $209.5 million.

By comparison, total Louisiana riverboat revenues are down 7 percent over that same time, coming in at $1.71 billion last fiscal year.

Boomtown’s owner, Pinnacle Entertainment, also owns Boomtown Bossier City and L’Auberge in Baton Rouge and Lake Charles, along with casinos in Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada and Ohio. Boomtown in Harvey is one of 15 riverboat casinos in Louisiana.

Local politicans including Jefferson Parish President John Young and parish Councilman Ricky Templet cheered the development and its tax revenue growth potential, including hotel occupancy and sales taxes.

Templet said when the company arrived, Boomtown made a committement to the West Bank and has followed through in funding public and nonprofit projects and events. “Boomtown has stepped up over the last 20 years,” he said.

The hotel will employ 45 people.

December proved to be a good month for the casino, which saw year-over-year revenue up by more than 6 percent, while total state riverboat revenue was up by more than 20 percent from huge gains in Lake Charles area casinos.

Mardi Gras 2015 tourism expectations high with cheap gas, sunnier economic outlook

January 20th, 2015

By Katherine Sayre, | The Times-Picayune

Cheap gas, hopes for good weather and New Orleans’ reputation as a hot destination could pave the way for a big Carnival season, tourism industry officials say.

New Orleans metro area hotels are mostly hovering between 90 percent and 95 percent booked with one month left to go before Mardi Gras, and many properties expect to sell out for Mardi Gras weekend, said Mavis Early, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Hotel & Lodging Association. “We’re going to have an even better year this year,” Early said.

Gas prices nationally averaged $2.05 on Tuesday, down from $3.28 the same day last year. Meanwhile, the U.S. economy added 3 million jobs last year, the most since 1999, and the unemployment rate declined to 5.6 percent in December, the lowest in six years.

Those factors could weigh in to whether visitors regionally and nationally decide to book the remaining available rooms in the city.

The Mardi Gras weekend is lining up with two other holidays, which could boost the number of visitors, observers say. Valentine’s Day falls on Saturday, Feb. 14.

And Lundi Gras is the same day as the federally observed Washington’s Birthday (also known as Presidents Day), which could persuade more visitors as a chance to stretch their paid vacation days.

Early said she expects the results from a survey of hotels to be ready in another week. The greater New Orleans metro area has about 38,000 hotel rooms — 22,000 of which are within one mile of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

In recent years, about 1 million people have flocked to New Orleans each year for parades and parties on Mardi Gras. Past studies have pinned the economic impact of Mardi Gras at about $144 million in direct benefits and as much as $340 million including indirect benefits.

Lauren Cason, the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau’s director of communications, marketing and governmental affairs, said it’s difficult to get a precise count of visitors during Mardi Gras. But overall, officials are anticipating reaching one million visitors again this year. Historically, the booking rate for hotel rooms has been 95 percent.

Cason said convention and tourism officials are curious to see whether the Presidents Day holiday gives an added boost to an already popular weekend.

The city is expecting 120,000 visitors for meetings and conventions in the first quarter of 2015, up from 90,000 in the fourth quarter of 2014. Unique events like the recent 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans, the debut of the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana in April and NOLA Navy Week are drawing tourists in addition to the regular Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest and French Quarter Fest events.

Many observers point to the favorable news coverage the city is receiving nationally and internationally for travel, including the New York Times placing the city 23rd on a list of 52 places around the world to visit in 2015.

As the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina comes in August, Cason said, this year will be a chance “to really show the world how great the city is doing.”

Two downtown hotels sell for nearly $35 million

January 13th, 2015

By: Robin Shannon, Reporter City Business

New Orleans hotels continue to be popular among real estate investors as two more properties changed ownership at the close of the year.

According to Orleans Parish conveyance documents, Clearview Hotel Capital, California-based investment group, sold the Renaissance New Orleans Arts Hotel at 700 Tchoupitoulas St. and the Renaissance Pere Marquette Hotel at 817 Common St. to an investment firm led by New York-based real estate investor Richard Hadar.

To read the full story visit City Business

Cruise passengers surpass 1 million in New Orleans

January 13th, 2015

By: Natalie Chandler, Managing Editor, City Business

More cruise ship passengers traveled through the Port of New Orleans last year than any other time in history, port officials said today.

Just more than 1 million passengers embarked and disembarked during 2014, an increase of more than 2.6 percent over 2013.

Port President and CEO Gary LaGrange said it’s a 180 percent increase in cruise passengers since 2001, when the port began seriously marketing itself as a “premier cruise destination.”

Four ships homeport in New Orleans. Two are with Carnival Cruise Lines and one is with Royal Caribbean. Norwegian Cruise Lines recently put a larger ship at the port that will offer cruises through April.

To read the full story visit CityBusiness.



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