Project description: A $557-million, five-year capital improvement plan
Project cost: $557 million
Start date: September 2018
Completion date: End of 2023
Owner/Developer: Ernest N. Morial New Orleans Exhibition Hall Authority
Project manager: Ernest N. Morial New Orleans Exhibition Hall Authority
Construction teams: Various confirmed; Some to be determined
The sixth largest convention center in the nation is getting a major facelift as it embarks on a $557-million, five-year capital improvement plan.
“Visitors are making decisions as much as 10 years from now on where they will have their events, and we are addressing major issues that need to take place to continue to make us more competitive for those dollars,” said Michael Sawaya, president and general manager of the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.
Convention Center event activity, in its 1.1-million square foot space, has produced $81.7 billion in economic impact since its 1985 opening, including $5.1 billion in new tax revenue for state and local governments, according to officials.
“People already want to come to New Orleans, and these investments will catapult the Center and surrounding area into one of the best convention destinations that supply the most modern infrastructures, developments and technologies that meet the needs of our convention attendees, cruise ship passengers, Central Business District commuters, port freight traffic and Warehouse District residents and businesses,” Sawaya said.
The project is off to a fast start. Ahead of schedule, Landis Construction completed an entire new roadway of Convention Center Boulevard in a $55 million project that opened to motorists in time for the new year. The upgrades feature one lane in each direction with a cobblestone safety strip dividing the two lanes.
With the completion of the improved city side of Convention Center Boulevard, crews will continue building a 7.5-acre “Linear Park” that will run the length of the building. Key design elements include a tree-lined pedestrian promenade, covered terraces, outdoor event spaces, interactive water features, green walls, shaded communal gathering areas and public art. The park is currently scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2020.
Workers have torn up the lakeside of the street. Once done, that will be the new two-lane boulevard; the park will occupy what is now the riverside of the boulevard, next to the Convention Center. The park will feature a brick sidewalk, 40 benches, landscaping, a single fountain with 50 jets, 30 new trees and “Henderson Lawn” at the upriver end by Henderson Street, according to Sawaya.
“Once completed, the beautifully landscaped park will combine with one of the nicest streets in the city,” Sawaya said. “Our biggest challenge in 2019 and into 2020 was the traffic concerns and issues, and we have been in constant communication with the city, neighborhood and area businesses to explain the lane shutdowns and anticipated noise of the work being done.”
Durr is working with Landis Construction on the Linear Park project. It includes the pouring of over 15,000 cubic yards of concrete, including sidewalks, curbs and ADA-compliant ramps. In addition, new bus and ride-share terminals have been constructed and are now operational. The “pedestrian park” of the job is being worked on, including building the walkway profile, pouring concrete and installing pavers for the outside area. For this portion of work, a series of new drain inlets and catch basins are being installed throughout the park side.
The Center itself will get upgrades throughout the five-year plan, including $175 million in renovations to all 140 meeting rooms and pre-function areas; $40.3 million in roof replacement; $15 million in restrooms renovations; $10 million in technology upgrades; and $8 million in retrofit of all exhibit hall lighting.
“In the second quarter of this year, we will begin bidding out these various projects, and the meeting rooms will be our major challenge going forward as we need to schedule the renovations around future events that are already scheduled,” Sawaya said. “These are 1984-designed rooms that are in serious need for upgrades.”
In October 2019, the Convention Center reached a deal with private developers to build a 1,200-room, $558-million hotel on its upriver side that would be connected to the furthest upriver hall of the Convention Center on land owned by the Exhibition Hall Authority. Developers include Matthews Southwest Hospitality, local developer Darryl Berger, Omni Hotels, Preston Hollow Capital and Provident Resources Group.
The Convention Center has agreed to finance the construction of a 900-space, $27.5-million parking garage for the hotel. The hotel will be also accompanied by a Convention Center-financed, mixed-use district that includes residential, retail and entertainment spaces. A joint venture between Woodward, Leventhal, Carpenter has been invited to participate in a Request for Proposals to develop the 39-acre project. The Domain Companies and River Park Neighborhood Investors also are on the short list. An RFP was issued in December 2019, with a final submittal deadline of Feb. 28. The finalist would enter into a long-term agreement with the Authority to execute the master plan for the mixed-use space to complement the Omni Hotel, expected to open in 2023.
“Our major competitors have adjoining hotels to their convention centers, so this project is a need for us and further illustrates our commitment to providing a game-changing development for our convention visitors,” Sawaya said.