THE EXHIBITION HALL AUTHORITY WAS CHOOSING FINALISTS FOR ITS $557 MILLION HOTEL PROJECT
The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center Exhibition Hall Authority, the governing body of the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, announced on Monday (April 21) that he had received proposals from master development teams to develop 39-acres adjacent to the convention center, including a convention headquarters hotel attached to the Convention Center along the riverfront and had narrowed the list down to three finalists.
And here we were thinking we were in the middle of a pandemic. But it is clear that even with thousands of beds lined across the massive halls of the Convention Center ready to take patients recovering from COVID-19, the powers that be at the Authority have been keenly focused on the $557 million redevelopment of the facility. Well, guess what? So are we.
Earlier this month the Bureau of Governmental Research (BGR) issued a report recommending that the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center to pause its 1,200-room convention headquarters hotel project to assess the coronavirus pandemic’s impacts on tourism and conventions. We thought that was a good idea, especially considering just how vulnerable the city’s tourism-driven economy is to crises and natural disasters. But the Authority, obviously, did not agree.
According to a press release, final requests for proposals were received on March 5, just 4 days before New Orleans had its first COVID-19 case and one week before major shutdowns were ordered. And in the roughly 42 days and 6,168 COVID-19 cases since then, the Convention Center authority has had the time to select three finalists–one of which ostensibly will be awarded the more than half-billion-dollar redevelopment contract. While the rest of us were scouring the city for masks, hand sanitizer and toilet tissue, it was business as usual for the Authority.
Those finalists are the Domain Companies, RDNI, WLC Muse. Their submissions are available at https://exhallnola.com/master-developer-responses/.
To their credit, the Authority, through its newly appointed chairman Walt Leger III, says it will wait until the board of commissioners is able to resume regular meetings before taking another look at the proposals and offering opportunities for public comment. Uh, no wonder some local business leaders are pressed to reopen the city’s economy. Coincidence? We think not.
The good news is that the racial inequities exposed by COVID-19’s disparate impact on the city and state’s Black, poor and disenfranchised communities only strengthen our resolve to press the Exhibition Hall Authority’s board to ensure that Black-owned businesses and Black workers benefit equitably from the economic boon that will be created by the development of the riverfront hotel and other facilities planned for the site. The Authority hasn’t pressed the paused button, and neither will we. It is time out for lip service and so-called good faith efforts. As this project moves forward, it must include significant Black-owned participation in a way that makes a noticeable difference in the lives of those who call this community home. That is the first thing we will be looking for in the three submissions.
The $557 million in play is public money and must be used in a way the benefits all of the residents of New Orleans, especially those that need it most, those whose very existence is the fabric of the culture that is at the center of the tourism industry.