New Orleans tourism zone proposed in bills before Louisiana Legislature

Posted on: March 26 2012
Comparison of Senate Bills 573 and 608

Published: March 25, 2012

By: Jaquetta White, Times Picayune

New Orleans would receive a formal hospitality zone, governed by a board and funded, possibly, through taxes on hotels and food and beverage purveyors operating inside the zone, under bills filed by Sen. Edwin Murray, D-New Orleans. Murray has introduced two similar pieces of legislation, Senate Bills 573 and 608, that call for the creation of a defined tourism district that would be responsible for economic and community development in the designated area.

bcs-fans-french-quarter.jpgView full sizeEliot Kamenitz, The Times-Picayune archiveBCS fans were photographed in the French Quarter on Jan. 9.

The bills appear to have a similar purpose: to promote tourism in the hospitality zone, provide enhanced public safety and sanitation, provide signage and lighting and to provide for property renewal and repair.

Both bills appear aimed at cleaning up the city's most visited areas in advance of Super Bowl XLVII, scheduled to take place in New Orleans on Feb. 3, 2012.

Hospitality industry leaders have become increasingly focused on designing ways to improve and maintain the French Quarter and surrounding areas in advance of the game and, ultimately, in the build-up to the city's tricentennial celebration in 2018, which hospitality industry leaders have set as a deadline for some industry improvements.

The mayor's office described the bills as "placeholder" legislation that will be tweaked in coming weeks as a formal plan for transforming the areas most heavily trafficked by visitors is formalized.

"The Mayor and the hospitality industry having been working closely together to develop a public-private partnership that will enable us to dramatically improve the infrastructure, security, sanitation, and marketing of the City's hospitality zone in preparation for next year's Super Bowl and in response to the Boston Consulting Group's strategic plan for New Orleans' tourism industry, which includes creating an additional 33,000 jobs by 2018," Ryan Berni, a spokesman for the mayor said in a statement. "This will benefit all residents of the City as the hospitality zone is our 'front door' and it will allow us to provide extra police protection downtown, which ensures that other regions of the city are staffed appropriately. The City and hospitality industry stakeholders filed a number of placeholder bills so that we have options for funding these initiatives, largely to be paid for by visitors, and we expect to announce our proposals together in the coming weeks."

Where Murray's bills differ is in their definition of the hospitality district, its legal rights and the composition of its board of directors.

Both bills have been referred to the Committee on Local and Municipal Affairs.

It is not clear if one will eventually replace the other. Murray did not return multiple calls seeking comment.

Senate Bill 573 proposes the New Orleans Hospitality and Entertainment District and gives its loose physical description as "all territories within the boundaries" of Faubourg Marigny, French Quarter, the Central Business District, the Warehouse District, Convention Center District, Louisiana Sports and Entertainment District and any areas connecting them to one another. It also gives the mayor the right to designate an area of town as part of the zone.

The district is proposed as a taxing body with the authority to issue and sell bonds.

The bill calls for the district to have its own board of governors that includes the chairs of the Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association, the New Orleans Chapter of the Louisiana Restaurant Association, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center-New Orleans, the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation and the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The mayor will also be allowed to appoint four Orleans Parish residents to the Hospitality and Entertainment District. Those appointees must have "substantial business interests" in the established zones either as "owners or operates of hotels or other tourism or hospitality businesses."

That board would be permitted to levy taxes on hotel rooms, the sale of food and beverages and on in-premises hotel parking at establishments within the district. The proceeds from the hotel tax would be split evenly between the Marketing Corp. and the CVB, according to the legislation.

In two separate bills, SB 588 and 598, Murray also moves to authorize the city of New Orleans to levy such taxes.

Among the more curious aspects of the Senate Bill 573 is its proposal that any purchases or contracts made or entered into by the district until next year's Super Bowl not be subject to public bid law.

Senate Bill 608 proposes the creation of a similar district but differs in that it does not give the body taxing authority and gives the mayor one more appointment, for a total of five, to the district's governing board. That bill calls for the creation of the New Orleans Hospitality Zone District, which stretches from the Pontchartrain Expressway at Claiborne Avenue, down to the Mississippi River, over to Elysian Fields and back up again.

The bill does not call for new taxes, nor does it make exceptions to the public bid law.