Delays For the New Convention Center’s River District Plan

The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center has plans for its upriver acres. The new project includes a neighborhood and entertainment district. The River District’s board decided to extend the deadline. The reason for the delay was prompted by a request from the Convention Center’s President and General Manager Michael Sawaya. He relayed to the board that they needed until June to finalize the terms of the agreement with local developer Lou Lauricella and his consortium.

“Delays are not well accepted,” Sawaya said. “When we are talking about these things it is not just about us getting lease income…We need things built and we need guarantees that we are going to get things built.”

The coronavirus has been a big thorn in the side of this project. Originally a 1,200-room hotel by Omni was to be part of the project. This was dropped due to the change on the outlook for hotels caused by the pandemic. Back to the drawing board, Sawaya has commissioned HVS which is a consulting firm to look into what hotel size would work best for the project.

HVS will look at building in phases. This will include a 600, 900, and 1,200 room versions of a hotel. Now they will need to find a finance partner who will replace the previous one, Preston Hollow Capital.

“Right now we don’t have something for (a potential new financial investor) to look at,” Sawaya said. “But in the first phase at least we’ve got to get something started.” He said that now that the broader upriver district is underway, “our hope is that investors will show up (for the hotel) as well.”

Business is improving for the Convention Center as hotel tax revenue has rebounded to close to $3 million. In fact, the past month has been the busiest for sales at the Convention Center since the pandemic. This comes at a great time with the project in the near future and the $557 million facelift the center is currently getting.

Lauricella and Chris Maguire, CEO of Dallas-based Cypress Equities are the master developers for the entertainment-focused neighborhood. This part will be on 39-acres that the Covention owns upriver. The project will include 1,100 housing units which half will be dedicated to lower-income residents. There will also be retail space and entertainment venues.

The 39-acres, valued at around $200 million, will be given to the project. The project will create around 4,500 permanent jobs and will cost over $1 billion. The plans are to begin construction on the first section of the project, a 7-acre tract of lakeside that runs along Tchoupitoulas Street.

“The brief extension on a final agreement will give the team more time to finalize plans for the vast amount of land to be developed for our community,” said Lauricella in an emailed comment.

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