Runway closures for electrical work will shift airplane traffic at Louis Armstrong Airport

October 2nd, 2014

By Mark Waller, | The Times-Picayune

Louis Armstrong International Airport is alerting neighbors that electrical work on the airfield will produce changes in flight frequency in October and early November. It’s part of a $12 million project that includes replacing the lighting along the runways, according to a statement from the airport.

The north-south runway will be closed until Oct. 12, the announcement said, meaning flights will use the east-west runway and neighbors east of the airport might notice an increase in air traffic.

The east-west runway will close from Oct. 20 to Nov. 2, sending all the flights to the north-south runway and leading neighbors north and south of the airport to see more planes overhead.

The airport statement described the work as a “critical airfield safety project.” It said the project is funded with Federal Aviation Administration grants, state aviation grants and the airport’s budget.

St. Charles streetcar line named historic landmark

October 1st, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – The St. Charles Avenue streetcar line, the oldest operating streetcar system in America, has been designated a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The designation recognizes sites of historic importance to the entire nation, not just a particular community.

The new recognition specifically cites the St. Charles line’s place as the oldest operational street railway in the United States and its 35 “meticulously restored” arch-roofed, steel-bodied, green Perley Thomas streetcars as reasons for its designation.

New Orleans embarks again on effort to redevelop former World Trade Center tower

October 1st, 2014

By Katherine Sayre, | The Times-Picayune

The City of New Orleans is launching another effort to bring the vacant former World Trade Center building, sitting on the city’s prime riverfront real estate, back into use.

Since the late 1990s, negotiations with developers over long-term leases for the 33-story tower have failed three times. Most recently, after a months-long selection process, the city broke off talks in April with Gatehouse Capital Corp., which had hopes of turning the building into apartments and a hotel.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration this week issued a “request for qualifications” which begins a two-step process to pick a new developer.

On Wednesday, Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant said the two-step process — a standard in the private sector — will give city leaders a chance to find developers who are serious and capable.

“I think we needed to create a much more private sector-driven process,” Grant said. “This is generally what the private sector does in development, engages in the pre-qualification process and vetting who is really there and capable and then put those people that are most likely to be good respondents to a much more rigorous response process. We’re also going to do some outside marketing.”

“This is going to track very much with what most municipalities do now in redevelopment,” Grant said. “It is going to track very close to what the marketplace and private sector people are accustomed to seeing in relation to responding to development opportunities, and we’ll have what I believe to be far superior responses.”

In the document issued this week, the city said it is looking for ideas to redevelop the office tower as “a first class commercial and/ or mixed-use project complementary to the adjacent land uses, and may include a hotel commensurate with the offerings of a four-star property, luxury residential, retail, or other professional office use, with entertainment components and other related amenities.”

The document does not mention demolishing the building as an option.

The city will evaluate development teams’ history, financial capacity and qualifications and select which companies can move on to the second round, a formal “request for proposals” phase, which would delve into the details of how the property would be used.

The deadline for the first round is Nov. 14. The city expects to select which developers can move on by Dec. 15.

The request for proposals will be released to selected developers Jan. 2. Those developers would then have until Feb. 16 to submit their specific proposals.

Before negotiations broke off over money, Gatehouse had planned to spend $190 million to renovate the tower — which sits at the foot of Canal Street — into apartments and a W Hotel. Gatehouse offered the city a $10 million upfront payment for a 99-year lease, while the city considered that far below the value of the property.

Gatehouse later agreed to pay the city 105 percent of the fair market value of the WTC building and land as determined by an independent appraisal, according to a source close to the negotiations. During negotiations, Gatehouse also increased its offer to $1 million per year in initial base rent with 10 percent escalations every five years, totaling $268 million over the 99-year lease.

The city countered with an offer that exceeded $1.5 billion in total lease payments with an upfront value over $100 million, according to the source,which essentially ended the negotiations. City officials insisted Gatehouse largely undervalued the property.

Ivan J. Miestchovich, University of New Orleans professor and director of the Institute for Economic Development & Real Estate Research, said over the years, through three mayoral administrations, the city has received several proposals for redeveloping the World Trade Center. But instead, the building has been allowed to sit vacant, generating no revenue and deteriorating.

Miestchovich said the city has shown “unrealistic expectations” in negotiations, including a large upfront payment. “That may be in their best interest, but it may not be in the best interest of the developers coming into the property who are going to be taking on all of the risk,” he said.

At this point, developers are likely questioning whether to return to the city’s selection process, considering there are other real estate opportunities across the country, he said. “We’re not the only fish in the sea here,” he said.

A two-step selection that begins with a qualification round is standard in both the public and private sectors, he said, and should help streamline the process.

Gatehouse won out over two other groups. James H. Burch LLC of Clifton, Va. proposed turning it into a mixed-used building with apartments and a Valencia Group hotel. Tricentennial Consortium, a coalition of leaders of New Orleans’ major tourism organizations, wanted to demolish the 1960s building and create a public space with an “iconic tower” of some kind, similar to the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

“It’s really beyond the time that the city ought to be seeing something happening with that particular building,” Miestchovich said. “They need to get it done and get it done right and it does turn out to be a win-win for everybody.”

Developers will be evaluated in five key areas:

  • Quality of overall application (15 percent)
  • Development team’s past projects and performance (20 percent)
  • Relevant development and construction experience (25 percent)
  • Financial capability (35 percent)
  • Commitment to goal of disadvantaged business enterprise program (5 percent)

Renaissance RX Announces 425-Job Biomedical Expansion in New Orleans

September 30th, 2014

NEW ORLEANS — Today, LED Secretary Stephen Moret and Renaissance RX founder and CEO Tarun Jolly announced the biomedical company will create at least 425 new direct jobs and make an $8 million capital investment in a new headquarters location in the Central Business District of New Orleans. Founded in 2012 with five employees at the New Orleans BioInnovation Center, Renaissance RX has experienced rapid growth. The company now employs 80 in the New Orleans area, with total employment of more than 800 across the country.

Click for the full Press Release.

Atlanta Federal Reserve bank names New Orleans’ Mark Romig to its tourism advisory group

September 26th, 2014

By Mark Waller, | The Times-Picayune

The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta has appointed Mark Romig, president of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, to its travel and tourism advisory council.

An announcement from the New Orleans tourism agency said the advisory council members inform the central bank about economic activity in their sectors, which in this case includes airport, convention, cruise line, entertainment, hotel and restaurant business trends.

“The council provides valuable intelligence on economic factors such as costs, prices, labor, investments, and more,” said the announcement.

The Atlanta Federal Reserve is the central bank for the region, including New Orleans.

Last year Romig, who has lead the tourism marketing group since 2011, also became a board member for the Louisiana Travel Promotion Association.

Historic 7-story riverfront building considered again for hotel development

September 24th, 2014

By Katherine Sayre, | The Times-Picayune

A controversial proposal to turn an historic riverfront building into the French Quarter’s first new hotel since 1969 is back in new form, nearly a decade after then-Mayor Ray Nagin vetoed the original plan.

Developers Wayne and David Ducote have proposed a boutique hotel with 80 rooms at 111 Iberville St., a seven-story former sugar company building from 1885. The vacant building sits on a sea of parking lots across from the Westin hotel in Canal Place.

The hotel proposal is a slimmer version of what was once envisioned, said Mike Sherman, a spokesman for the project. “Unlike the proposal a decade ago, this focuses on adaptive reuse with the hotel rooms in the existing footprint in the building,” Sherman said.

Beginning in 2004, the Ducotes’ plan called for a 101-room, $20 million hotel with an expansion that would have nearly doubled the building’s square footage. The City Council agreed to rezone the land to allow for a hotel as a conditional-use requiring council approval. The council later approved the conditional-use permit.

But one month before Hurricane Katrina, Nagin blocked the project in his first land-use veto. After the storm, developers briefly attempted to revive their plan but withdrew as City Council support dissolved in 2006.

Sherman said the proposal is in compliance with the city’s master plan and is a better fit for the historic neighborhood at a smaller size. The height of the building would remain the same.

The hotel would be locally owned and operated in partnership with New Orleans hotelier Joe Jaeger.

The building’s total square footage would expand slightly, from 37,800 square feet to 41,900 square feet with a build-out of the top floor and ground floor additions. A restaurant, pool and office would be added.

Architect John C. Williams said the proposed hotel property and the surrounding parking lots were once an industrial area known as the sugar district for processing sugar.

“At one point, this was completely filled with refineries from here to the Jax Brewery,” he said.

In 1969, city leaders imposed a moratorium on new hotels in the Quarter through zoning changes, in response to fears that more lodging would degrade the Quarter’s authenticity and turn it into an entirely tourist zone. But the Iberville property rezoning in 2004 broke that ban.

The Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates group, in a news release Wednesday, said limits on French Quarter hotels have protected the neighborhood while allowing for rapid growth of hotels in the nearby Central Business District. The group urged the City Planning Commission, the Vieux Carre Commission and the City Council to reject the proposal.

Meanwhile, slightly downriver from the Iberville building, the Ducotes are converting a similar stand-alone red-brick building into condominiums with ground-floor retail space.

Developing that building into residential units is one of the city’s requirements for allowing the hotel.

Williams said developers will apply for the permit next week. The project needs approval from the Vieux Carre Commission, the City Planning Commission and the City Council.

The hotel ban excludes the blocks between Canal and Iberville streets.

New Orleans tourism advertising efforts moving from summer focus to year-round effort

September 23rd, 2014

By Mark Waller, | The Times-Picayune

Advertising New Orleans to potential visitors once was a mostly summertime pursuit. The idea was that the city is naturally strong as a destination in the cooler months, while summer is slow, a harder sell and the season that needs the most marketing help.

Aided by new revenue from an assessment that hotels agreed to impose on themselves this year, however, the agency that promotes New Orleans to tourists is moving toward a year-round campaign. The board of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp. heard about that Monday in a presentation of the group’s plans for 2015.

The expanded effort starts in the closing months of 2014, when the marketers will advertise the city for the first time for fall and the winter holiday season in Austin, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington. Mark Romig, president of the marketing corporation, said the agency in the past ran out money before the late part of the year for advertising in larger, more distant cities.

An estimated $1.2 million will go toward television commercials, including a 30-second spot from the city’s “Follow Your NOLA” tourism campaign and a 15-second, holiday version called “Follow Your Joy.”

“This will be high-impact for us and, again, historic for the city, to be out there in fall,” Romig said.

A dozen cities within driving distance also will see the holiday ad as an online video, in a $300,000 push.

In 2015, the group will continue with its “Follow Your NOLA” theme for a third year. Jeff Hinson of the 360i advertising firm, which the tourism corporation hired to run the campaign, said the strategy remains to address travelers who are “experiential discoverers.”

“That’s our person, (who) dives in deep” exploring their destinations, Hinson said.

To keep the campaign fresh, however, the marketers will make a new video advertisement around the theme. Hinson said other cities are starting to echo the approach, raising the need for differentiation. “We’ve constantly got to reinvent,” he said.

The campaign also will likely start early in the year instead of waiting until spring.

“With more dollars at play, we can be up in the markets on a more year-round basis,” Romig said.

The main advertising campaign is projected to cost about $5.9 million in 2015, up from $4.5 million planned for years before the new hotel assessment. The agency’s total marketing effort will cost an estimated $10.3 million, including public relations work, Internet marketing, support for festivals and other points.

Board Vice Chairman Nick Mueller, president of the National World War II Museum, asked for more details on the spending and measures of how well the strategies are working. In approving the conceptual plan for 2015, the board stipulated further examination of those questions.

Romig said other goals will carry over from this year, such as figuring out how to attract more visitors on weekdays. Board member David Teich, general manager of the Windsor Court Hotel, said luring leisure travelers on weekdays is a perennial challenge. He suggested the best approach might be convincing weekend visitors to extend their stays.

Jeremy Cooker, vice president of the marketing corporation, listed optimizing the group’s Internet outlets for mobile devices as another 2015 goal. And it continues merging its web presence with the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, a separate agency that focuses on attracting meetings and events. The two groups are aiming for a unified portal for vacation and business travelers.

Final numbers on the tourist count for a given year typically come out in the spring of the next year. A report released in April counted almost 9.3 million visitors to New Orleans in 2013. So far, Romig said, 2014 appears to be strong.

“We’ve seen some informal numbers from the first half of the year,” Romig said. “Things are looking good.”

Local couple plans St. Charles Ave. hotel-condo project

September 22nd, 2014

By: Greg LaRose, Editor New Orleans CityBusiness

The downtown site of a former office supply business is where a New Orleans couple wants to build a seven-story hotel and condominium project.

Husband and wife Barry and Lorraine Dinvaut acquired the building at 744 St. Charles St. in June 2013. On Friday, they filed plans with the city for a $20 million project near Lafayette Square that will feature a restaurant and retail space on the ground floor with condos and hotel rooms on the upper floors.

According to the city’s design review permit, the project will require a height variance.

For the full story visit, CityBusiness.

RTA Rolls New Bus Service Starting Sunday, September 21

September 19th, 2014

For Immediate Release:

Effective this Sunday, September 21, 2014, the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) will implement improvements to bus service. This expanded and improved bus service will restore bus lines, add new bus service, and improve service reliability.  Riders are encouraged to pick up a rider alert on RTA vehicles, visit the RTA online, and call the RTA to find out more about the service improvements. RTA representatives will be at bus stops and transfer locations across New Orleans this weekend to answer questions and distribute informational fliers about this service enhancement. Learn more at, or by calling 504-248-3900.



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