A new 10,000 square foot meeting room with a view of downtown New Orleans. A glass-walled ballroom overlooking the Mississippi River. Indoor and outdoor spaces for meetings and exhibitions.
These are some of the next improvements being considered for the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, where a $557 million renovation is underway following a legal dispute over who will handle the next phases of construction.
Convention Center President Michael Sawaya said the plan is moving forward with Indianapolis-based AECOM Hunt and Metairie-based Broadmoor as the project’s construction manager after a series of legal challenges from bidders losers.
According to a Times-Picayune report | New Orleans Advocate, the two competing joint partnerships — one made up of Metro Services Group, The Lemoine Co. and McDonnel Construction Services, the other led by Woodward Design + Build — argued in August that the AECOM Hunt/Broadmoor consortium should be disqualified because the group had not obtained a contractor’s license in Louisiana.
Sawaya said those challenges have been addressed and discussions are ongoing on cost estimates for upgrading the 1.1 million square foot facility. The Exhibition Hall Authority, the entity that manages the Convention Center, last month voted a preconstruction budget of $2 million for the design work.
The convention center was built in 1984 and expanded in 1991 and 1999. A five-year capital improvement plan launched in 2018 resulted in upgrades to its technology infrastructure, restrooms, convention center boulevard, and amenities. a new 7.5 acre pedestrian park.
Officials recently shared architectural renderings of the look of the interior space under the project, which they say is needed to compete with other markets for larger, more profitable events.
Designs to replace the facility’s aging 40-acre roof and upgrade its 140 meeting rooms are mostly complete, Sawaya said.
“It’s now about planning the work so that we can start with some of these larger projects,” he said.
Future plans call for “immersive interventions” that would allow for indoor and outdoor exhibition and meeting spaces. It would eliminate the clutter and monotony of the building, which is three-quarters of a mile long, he said.
While these interventions are still in the conceptual stage, Sawaya envisions a new 10,000 square foot meeting room near the Julia Street side of the building that would offer downtown views. Another intervention would be a glass-enclosed multipurpose ballroom on the third floor of the facility between the two Crescent City Connection decks overlooking the Mississippi River.
“From the feedback we’ve received, these will be more valuable in the future,” he said.
In 2021, the Convention Center invested $5 million in technology infrastructure, including 3 million square feet of WiFi upgrades. New charging stations have been installed along the exhibition hall. Other finishes included the overhaul of floor electrical boxes and the painting and refurbishing of 35 sets of toilets.
Landis Construction has completed the replacement of approximately one mile of two-lane road on Convention Center Boulevard, including underground utilities, concrete, strips, signage, traffic lights, paved medians and some sidewalks . The scope of this work involved a new transport hub to house buses, shuttles, taxis and car pools, including steel structures, metal panels, FRC panels, lighting and landscaping. The new $60 million linear park next to the convention center features a fountain, updated porches with new metal panels, new lighting, benches and landscaping.
The completed work totals $110 million, and Sawaya said nothing was reduced due to financial fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
A headquarters hotel proposed to be built nearby has been on hold since the start of the pandemic, when tourism plummeted and questions arose over the public’s financial contribution to development.
The number of events held at the Convention Center has yet to reach pre-pandemic levels. The Convention Center hosted about 125 events a year before the pandemic, officials said. In 2021 it hosted 65 events, and in 2022 officials earlier this year reported 100 events on the calendar, including the annual Carnival Balls.
Tim Hemphill, vice president of sales and marketing, said business was trending up in 2022.
The Association of PeriOperative Registered Nurses World Surgery Conference and Expo, which typically draws 8,000 attendees, is scheduled for March 19-23 at the Convention Center. The facility hosted the International Roofing Expo from Jan. 30 to Feb. 3, which was attended by thousands of people, according to the organization’s website.
The big conventions that draw 30,000 people haven’t returned yet, but Hemphill predicts they will.
He said he expects to see more hybrid models at future events, with sessions held virtually and in person. A recent convention live-streamed all of its sessions with a live audience, he said.
“What people realize is that if you broadcast a good program live, they will do it in person next time,” he said.