With hospitality zone bill stalled, convention center explores other alternatives

May 24 2012 | Latest News
..."We'll continue to explore ways to improve our infrastructure,"...

May 23, 2012
By Jaquetta White, Times Picayune

Representatives from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center-New Orleans will sit down soon with other members of the hospitality industry and city leaders to discuss how to proceed with funding infrastructure improvements in downtown New Orleans and the French Quarter in advance of next year's Super Bowl if a proposed "hospitality zone" is not created, the center's general manager said Wednesday. "We'll continue to explore,"e ways to improve our infrastructure," Bob Johnson said. "We'll discuss other ways for the convention center to participate."

The convention center had planned to provide the city with $30 million to conduct infrastructure improvements. About $19 million would go to installing permanent pavement, striping, and mill and overlay work. Another $3 million would go to repair sidewalks along 10 French Quarter streets. Money from the convention center also would go to cover the repair of 1,500 street lamps, the inspection and cleaning of 1,500 catch basins, and the conversion of 300 sidewalk crossings to ramps in the French Quarter and Central Business District.

But Johnson has indicated that the investment is contingent on the city creating a recurring revenue stream for the infrastructure maintenance. The city attempted to set up such a revenue stream by proposing legislation that called for the creation of a hospitality zone in downtown New Orleans and the French Quarter. As part of the proposal, revenue from new taxes within the zone's boundaries would be used to fund infrastructure enhancements and tourism marketing.

But the bill seems to have stalled in the Legislature after failing to gain support from legislators in its original form and failing to find backers in the hospitality industry in its amended form.

Johnson said the center's contribution will no longer be made in the manner initially proposed if the measure fails. He could not say that the center would provide a monetary contribution at all.

"We'll assess what the industry needs and what needs to be done and how we can maybe participate," Johnson said.

Preparing the city for Super Bowl XLVII remains the immediate goal, Johnson said.

"There's still some sense of urgency," Johnson said. "We all need to be gussied up and make sure our best foot is put forward."

In other news, the convention center, again, increased its planned spend on renovations to the building's oldest phase.

The latest cost addition came Wednesday when the convention center board voted to increase its construction contract with Citadel Builders LLC by $545,134 to $38.45 million to add upgraded digital signs, modified work to the ceiling and other costs to the price. The change in contract price will not delay the construction. The renovation is scheduled to be completed Feb. 2, 2013, the day before Super Bowl XLVII is played in New Orleans.

This is the third time in as many months, and the sixth time total, that the center has increased its construction contract. Last month, the board approved a $1.4 million increase in the contract to bring the total cost to $37.9 million and to extend construction from Jan. 19, 2013 to the February date.

The original contract was for $36.5 million and called for the work to be completed in late December or early January. The convention center initially assigned a $42 million budget to the plan, but Citadel's bid allowed the riverfront meeting hall to move forward below that budget.