New Orleans committee bumps rules for Uber to the full City Council without a recommendation

July 29th, 2014

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

New Orleans City Council members on Tuesday (July 29) added more suggestions on how to regulate digital car services such as Uber during the second transportation committee meeting on the subject in as many months. But the group chose to forward a set of already proposed changes to the full council for its consideration, without any recommendation from the committee.

The council could take up the issue on Aug. 14 at the earliest.

Council member Stacy Head identified a need for enforcement measures against non-compliant drivers operating under digital dispatching services, suggesting immobilizing cars with wheel locks. She also said the city will need more financial resources to increase enforcement of transportation regulations when mobile device applications are active in the city, suggesting higher fees for transportation operators.

Council member Susan Guidry said the discussion wasn’t broad enough with its focus on tweaking rules for luxury car services. She said the city should also create regulations for ride-sharing services, because they inevitably will begin operating whether or not the law permits them.

The basic rule changes proposed so far are to eliminate a three-hour minimum for luxury car trips and to set a new range of minimum fees, from $25 for a sedan ride to $90 for a plush sport utility vehicle that includes a stop at Louis Armstrong International Airport.

Uber, perhaps the most publicized of the companies with transportation apps, indicates it wants to start running its high-end car service, called Uber Black, in New Orleans. Ryan Berni, advisor to Mayor Mitch Landrieu, said the administration presented rule changes for luxury cars partly because the city left that sector unaddressed during taxi regulation changes in recent years.

As she did during a similar hearing in June, Guidry pressed Uber representatives on the idea that they will introduce the lower tier ride-sharing version of their product, called UberX, after the limousine feature of their app is functioning. Uber’s public policy director for the Americas, Justin Kintz, told her the company would gladly discuss rules applying to UberX in the future.

The discussion, which lasted about three hours, echoed many of the pro-Uber and anti-Uber arguments that speakers raised at a hearing in June.

The company and its supporters describe a more efficient, reliable, inexpensive service that spurs improvements in transportation accessibility and opens an avenue for small operators to launch their own businesses. Its critics, often from the taxi and limousine industries, describe an unworkable economic model that lacks assurances of safety, pricing fairness and non-discrimination of customers by drivers.

One notable difference between the two meetings was the position of Malachi Hull, who last month sat with administrators as the chief of the city’s Taxicab Bureau.

City Hall dismissed Hull earlier this month. On Tuesday, he appeared, he said, as a concerned citizen. He spoke to the committee about dangers of lax regulation with digital car dispatchers.

He said services such as Uber exclude people who lack smartphones or credit cards. He described security ramifications of overseeing transportation systems, including examples from around the world of people using taxi services in terrorist plots and human trafficking.

“When you have a driver that’s not permitted, that’s called hitchhiking,” Hull told council members. “I want you to remember that.



Longer hours for Algiers ferry to start sooner than expected

July 29th, 2014

By Richard Rainey, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

The delay to add more evening hours to the Algiers-Canal Street ferry line will be a weekday shorter than expected.

Veolia Transportation Services Inc., the private manager of New Orleans public transit, has decided to extend the ferries’ operating hours starting Friday (Aug. 1) rather than wait until Monday (Aug. 4), the company has announced.

The Algiers-Canal Street ferry hours
Days Current Hours New Hours
Monday – Thursday 7:15 a.m – 6:30 p.m. 6 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Friday 7:15 a.m. – 8 p.m. 6 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Saturday 10:45 a.m. – 8 p.m. No change
Sunday 10:45 a.m. – 6 p.m. No change

Veolia Transportation Services Inc.

Under the new schedule, weekday service departs on the half hour and weekend service departs on the quarter hour. The first trip from Algiers Point will depart at 6 a.m. on weekdays; the last trip back from Canal Street will depart at 9:45 p.m.

The company delayed its roll-out of the new schedule in July because it didn’t have the staff to make the additional runs across the Mississippi River. Fifteen ferry workers quit or decided to stay with the state Department of Transportation and Development when it handed the reins of the ferry operations to Veolia in February.

The ferries will also run special extended hours on Wednesday (July 30) to help support “Wednesdays on the Point,” a series of free summer concerts at the Algiers landing. The ferries will depart in the morning at their regular time, but continue to run from Algiers until 9:15 p.m. and from Canal Street until 9:30 p.m.



Architecture panel approves wrap-around hotel

July 29th, 2014

By: Robin Shannon, Reporter CItyBusiness

The Architectural Review Committee for the Historic District Landmarks Commission has given conceptual approval for a new hotel and restaurant in the Central Business District.

HW Real Estate Development Corp. of Chicago is planning to build a 138-room hotel and ground floor restaurant on a 26,000-square-foot L-shaped lot that faces Julia Street on one end and Baronne Street at the other. The property also wraps around an existing two-story residence on Julia Street and a four-story building on the corner of Baronne and Julia.

The planned development spans two zoning designations, one that allows buildings no higher than 75 feet and another with a limit of 65 feet. The current design of the hotel has a three-story and four-story portion facing Julia Street, a five-story portion facing Carondelet Street and a six-story portion facing Baronne.

For the full story visit, CityBusiness.



One-year boost expanded job total to 552,000

July 27th, 2014

BY BILL LODGE  THE ADVOCATE

Nonfarm employment in the New Orleans metropolitan area increased by 8,100 jobs for the year ended June 30.

That one-year boost of 1.5 percent expanded the New Orleans area’s rebounding job total to 552,000, according to seasonally unadjusted numbers released Friday by the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

“Southeastern Louisiana appears to be entering a phase of growth unseen for decades,” said Michael Hecht, president and chief executive officer of Greater New Orleans Inc.

Hecht said the region’s economy is “underpinned by both oil and natural gas, supported by trade and advanced manufacturing and augmented further by technology and other new industries, like water management.

“Greater New Orleans has an exceptional opportunity for diversified job creation in the coming years. It is now our responsibility to make investments in training and infrastructure to maximize this economic opportunity.”

To view the full story visit, The Advocate.



Orpheum Theater renovation underway in hands of new owners

July 25th, 2014

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

The Orpheum Theater has played host to silence for nearly a decade.

The 96-year-old space, shuttered since Hurricane Katrina, is the preferred venue for the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra because of its pristine acoustics. Going back further in history, it was a stage for vaudeville, then a movie house.

The last time Roland von Kurnatowski remembers attending an event there was the 1960s. He was a kid going to see “PT 109,” the biopic about John F. Kennedy’s World War II service in the South Pacific.

Fifty years later, a rolled-up movie screen still hangs above the stage, and von Kurnatowski is a new owner of the Orpheum, overseeing a $13 million year-long renovation of the theater.

Even in its state of disrepair, the majesty of the Orpheum persists.

“I can imagine what performing on that stage would feel like with your audience so close,” von Kurnatowski said. “Something about it — it really grabs your attention. It’s a confirmation that this is a special place, very deserving and worthy of the effort.”

He and his wife, Mary von Kurnatowski, are perhaps best known as the owners of Tipitina’s club and founders of Tipitina’s Foundation, which supports music culture by supplying instruments and internships to young musicians. They bought the Orpheum for $1.5 million in February with business partner Dr. Eric George.

It was listed for sale last year for the third time since Katrina, after years of failed promises from other developers to rejuvenate the performance hall.

Roland von Kurnatowski drove past the Orpheum a couple of days before Thanksgiving last year and saw the for-sale sign. He recognized the name of a friend, real estate broker Don Randon, and picked up the phone. Three days later, he had written an offer.

“I knew right away it was going to be all about bringing it back to what it was,” said Mary von Kurnatowski.

The new owners hope to restore the history while creating a space for multiple uses, from the return of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and other musical performances to movie premieres, private events and fundraisers.

An adjustable floor that can move from sloped to flat, along with removable seats, will give the space flexibility, the owners said. The previously unused basement will be renovated into 15,000 square feet of new space, they said.

In the sweltering hot days before modern air-conditioning, audience members were cooled by a pit of dry ice in the basement. The cold air traveled through vents in the wood floor, pulled upward by fans.

That pit will be turned into a private party space with a kitchen. The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and the Tipitina’s Foundations will put their offices downstairs.

The project is expected to be finished in the summer of 2015, in time for the orchestra to open its 2015-2016 season in the Orpheum that fall.

“To be able to go home to the theater that was home to the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra for all of its history up until Katrina is really a significant development for the orchestra,” said the group’s CEO James William Boyd.

Boyd said the acoustics of the Orpheum have been described as “rivaling Carnegie Hall,” and the group is hopeful that its return will attract first-time and returning concert-goers. “We can’t wait to get in there,” he said.

Also in the works for the theater: new suites with a private bar in the highest seating area, and a new entryway, among other improvements. Existing plaster walls, ceiling and decorations will be preserved and restored to original colors.

The owners hope to see the mission of Tipitina’s Foundation extended through the theater, offering another stage for young musicians to experience. Among other programs, the foundation has given $2.7 million worth of musical instruments to schools across Louisiana and opened up music performance to students through an internship led by Donald Harrison.

As the renovation begins, locals’ memories of the theater are everywhere.

“When I say I’m working on the Orpheum, almost every single person has shared a personal account or experience in the theater, especially people that have grown up here and have nostalgia for the building,” said Kristin Shannon, business development director. She also remembers singing on the stage for a holiday performance.

Bethany Paulsen, Tipitina’s Foundation managing director, said her group is still exploring exactly how a partnership with the new Orpheum will work, but it will be a relationship that benefits students and musicians alike.

“Having a venue like this back in New Orleans and adding to that list of venues that we can bring in top performers, that serves the community and Louisiana’s music scene, that serves everyone,” Paulsen said.

The theater is on the National Register of Historic Places. The owners are pursuing state and federal historic tax credits, according to plans filed with the city.

The Orpheum would be the third of downtown New Orleans’ four historic theaters to reopen in recent years. The Joy and Saenger theaters were recently restored, while the Loews State Palace theater remains shut down.



IPW 2016 Coming to New Orleans

July 23rd, 2014

U.S. Travel Association press release

The U.S. Travel Association announced Wednesday that New Orleans will be the venue for IPW 2016—the first time the blockbuster travel industry event has returned to the Crescent City since 2002. New Orleans also previously hosted the annual five-day event, formerly known as International Pow Wow, in 1993 and 1979.

IPW is the largest travel trade show in North America—a one-stop opportunity for U.S. destinations, attractions and businesses to showcase themselves to thousands of influential travel professionals from international markets. The business transacted at IPW has been calculated by the independent firm Rockport Analytics to bring nearly one million extra international visitors and $1.7 billion in international tourism spending to recent host cities, and 8.8 million additional international visitors and $28 billion in international tourism spending to the U.S. economy overall.

“One of the major objectives of IPW is to spotlight the economic benefits of travel and tourism, and few cities anywhere in the world understand that equation as well as New Orleans,” said U.S. Travel Association president and CEO Roger Dow. “New Orleans epitomizes the idea of rolling out the welcome mat for your guests. We’re thrilled that IPW’s exhibitors and attendees will be able to experience this utterly unique American destination for the first time in over a decade.”

Greater Miami and The Beaches had been previously announced as the host city for IPW 2016, but arrangements for the event were postponed when the City of Miami Beach Commission voted through a $500 million renovation and expansion of the city’s convention center, set to begin in 2015 and last an estimated three years.

“We look forward to welcoming IPW back to Greater Miami and showcasing a new state-of-the-art Miami Beach Convention Center and the many assets and attractions of our ever-evolving destination,” said Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO William D. Talbert, III, CDME.

Dow praised the handling of the transition by both Miami and New Orleans, and called it a virtual certainty that IPW will return to Greater Miami and The Beaches once upgrades to its convention facilities are complete.

“We have to change venues for IPW 2016 for the best, most welcome reason we can possibly think of: Miami has wisely decided to make a huge investment in its convention space,” Dow said. “The fiscal benefits of that decision will return to the city many times over, and in the meantime, we will have another top-shelf new facility to consider for a future IPW.”

“We are thrilled to showcase New Orleans to the entire world marketplace for international travel by hosting IPW in June 2016,” said Stephen Perry, president and CEO of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. “New Orleans is a magical place built on deeply rooted culture, innovative and authentic food, inspiring music and fabled architecture. We travel the world to meet with our travel industry partners to encourage them to bring business to New Orleans, but having them come and experience all that we have to offer first hand is an opportunity that is a catalytic game changer.

“The timing could not be better. Hosting this critical international selling and marketing show is a perfect fit with our plans for the world promotion of New Orleans’ 300th Tricentennial birthday in 2018. This will result in hundreds of millions of new dollars of international capital flowing into New Orleans and Louisiana,” Perry said.



CBD hotel sells for $10.75M

July 22nd, 2014

By: Greg LaRose, Editor July 22, 2014,  CityBusiness

A New York real estate investment firm has made its first foray into the New Orleans market with the purchase of a downtown hotel.

The Garrison Investment Group purchased the O’Keefe Plaza Hotel on July 11 for $10.75 million from the Chauhan and Kansagra families. The six-story property at 334 O’Keefe Ave. has 129 rooms.

For the full story, visit CityBusiness.



New Orleans City Council transportation committee cancels Tuesday hearing on car-hiring services such as Uber

July 21st, 2014

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

A hearing scheduled for this week on rules covering how transportation applications such as Uber would operate in New Orleans has been cancelled.

The New Orleans City Council’s Transportation Committee set the discussion for Tuesday (July 22) during an initial lengthy hearing on the subject in June. But the committee has sent out a notice that the meeting is cancelled, leaving the process of formulating regulations for digital car hiring services awaiting action.

Business groups, Uber customers and other supporters argued in June that the city should allow such apps to operate because they increase customer options, foster competition in the taxicab and limousine industry and encourage innovation. But taxi and limo industry members argued Uber and similar services skirt regulations and raise concerns about safety for riders, fairness in pricing and competitive fairness with other transportation companies.

The debate has unfolded in cities around the world, most visibly involving the San Francisco-based Uber, which has become an all-time favorite of technology investors.

On Friday, Uber activated its app for the first time in New Orleans for a promotion that let people use the app to order ice cream delivery.



New Orleans gets a top 10 ranking among world cities in 2014 from Travel + Leisure magazine

July 16th, 2014

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

Travel + Leisure Magazine has named New Orleans one of the world’s top 10 cities to visit, adding to a long procession of tourism accolades the city has collected in recent years.

New Orleans ranked 10th in the world. The only other U.S. city on the list, which also is the only other city to outrank New Orleans in the national standings, is Charleston, S.C.

The magazine said the results are based on polling its readers.

The New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau issued an announcement celebrating the designation, quoting a Travel + Leisure editor saying the Southern cities on the list have a “sense of ease and authenticity” that appeals to travelers.

The CVB announcement names some of the other recent tourism nods: “The designation as a ‘World’s Best City’ is New Orleans’ most recent accomplishment in a string of accolades, including a ‘Must See Destination for 2014′ by National Geographic, a ‘Best American City for Foodies’ by Conde Nast Traveler and ‘One of Six Trips That Will Change Your Life’ by Coastal Living Magazine.



Le Méridien Reveals Design for New Orleans Hotel

July 15th, 2014

Hotel Business

NEW ORLEANS—Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. unveiled designs for Le Méridien New Orleans, which will mark the return of the French-born brand to the Crescent City at the end of the year.

Formerly the W New Orleans, the property has now transitioned to the Hotel New Orleans Downtown for the remainder of its $29-million renovation.

Managed by Starwood Hotels, the Hotel New Orleans Downtown will remain open and fully operational as well as a member of the Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty program until Le Méridien debuts this winter.

Le Méridien New Orleans will offer 410 fully renovated guestrooms and corridors, as well as a fully redesigned lobby, incorporating the signature Le Méridien Hub, a new destination restaurant and bar, and re-concepted second floor flexible meeting space. The hotel will continue to feature amenities such as the fitness facility, rooftop pool and more than 15,000 sq. ft. of meeting and event space.

Designed by New York-based Meyer Davis, the inspiration for the hotel’s design incorporates the mid-century aesthetic of Le Méridien layered with contextual influences from the city of New Orleans, according to the company. Design element and patterns within the hotel draw from the architectural features of the city, including the wrought iron work seen throughout the Big Easy. Cultural references from the Mardi Gras parade route are also layered into the design.

Wallcoverings along the guestroom corridors have been inspired by the cartography of New Orleans with hidden quotes about the city incorporated into the custom pattern. The guestroom entry is wrapped in a graphic design that represents crowd densities along the Mardi Gras route. Other design elements include a drafting height desk; a soaring headboard that draws from the profiles of moldings found throughout the city; and cool neutral tones with subtle touches of accent colors.

Le Méridien New Orleans will feature the signature Le Méridien Hub, which consists of four elements: large-scale artwork in high impact areas; a sensory experience, illustrated through Le Méridien signature scent, sound and use of light; UNLOCK ART program, featuring artist designed key card collections that offer access to Le Méridien-affiliated contemporary cultural centers in the city; and a 24-hour curated soundtrack by French Bossa Nova band Nouvelle Vague.

Located on Poydras Street, the hotel is adjacent to the Arts District. Nearby attractions include Harrah’s Casino, the Warehouse District, Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans Museum of Art, Riverwalk Shopping and the French Market.



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