April 9 2014 | Latest NewsBy Julia O'Donoghue, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center expansion plans cleared a legislative hurdle Tuesday when lawmakers passed legislation enabling the development out of the state House Ways and Means Committee Tuesday.
Speaker Pro Tempore Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, sponsored the bill to give the convention center the opportunity to issue bonds to raise up to $142 million that would support private development including a hotel, condos and retail space on a site upriver from the facility. Leger said the effort would be expected to attract $1 billion in private investment to the project.
The bond would be paid back by the convention center itself -- which has its own revenue stream in dedicated hotel taxes -- and would not affect the state debt limit.
"It would allow for the development of a riverfront park at the upriver side, where there is currently available river frontage and also land," said Leger at a presentation of the bill before the House Ways and Means Committee.
Some of the money would also be used to provide more green space and an entryway at the south end of the convention center and to add executive conference centers to the top of the building. "One of the growing areas of competition is executive conferences, which are smaller in number, but also very lucrative to this industry," said Leger.
State lawmakers were on board with the convention center plans, particularly since it didn't affect the state's bottom line.
"Basically, they are trying to have the authority to further leverage their own money and income," said Rep. Major Thibaut, D-New Roads, said about the bill.