New Orleans development team, Howard Hughes Corp. among companies vying for Convention Center riverfront project

October 8 2014 | Latest News
By Katherine Sayre, | The Times-Picayune

A New Orleans-based team of developers, two national companies and a Miami group are competing to transform 47 acres of unused land on the Mississippi River owned by the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center into a hotel, shopping, residential and entertainment district.

Two other companies have applied to build only a hotel at the site, the main component of the Convention Center's plans for the area upriver from the Crescent City Connection.

Earlier this year, the Convention Center issued a "request for interest" from developers in hopes of luring up as much as $1 billion in private investment to create a space that attracts more conventions along with locals.

President and CEO Bob Johnson said the convention center asked for a basic application from developers; the next step will be seeking specific proposals, including visual renderings, from each team.

The companies seeking to be the "master developer" for the project are:

Johnson said two companies applied to develop only the full-service hotel component, part of an effort to compete with other convention facilities around the country with a connected anchor hotel. Those groups are:

  • RIDA Development Corp.: A Houston-based company undergoing an expansion of its hotel development efforts in the U.S. and around the world, according to the company's website.

  • Omni Hotels & Resorts: A Dallas-based hotel company. Omni's properties include hotels adjacent or attached to convention centers in Dallas, Nashville, Fort Worth and San Diego.

Johnson said the teams will be ranked by staff along with board members, and the convention center will begin negotiations for a long-term lease with the top-ranked group. He said he hopes to have negotiations begun by the start of next year.

He said the companies are not responding to a specific request-for-proposals. Instead, the said, the center is looking for developers' ideas, for a hotel, retail and other components, such as entertainment, apartments or condos.

"I'm confident that we will be able to come to terms with one of the groups that have expressed an interest," Johnson said.

If for some reason negotiations fail with the first group, Johnson said, the center will move on to the second-ranked group.

The convention center has about $170 million -- from a combination of bonds, cash reserves and state capital outlay money -- to pursue its ambitious expansion goals, including planned construction along Convention Center Boulevard to make it more pedestrian friendly and infrastructure work to prepare the vacant land for development.