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on April 21, 2016 at 9:57 AM, updated April 21, 2016 at 11:33 AM
The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center would get power to issue taxes within its own district to develop a 1,200-room hotel and a surrounding neighborhood on vacant riverfront land, under proposed legislation.
An economic development district for the convention center -- the New Orleans Exhibition Hall Authority Economic Growth and Development District -- was created by state lawmakers last year, but taxing authority was specifically written out as an option.
Now, Rep. Walt Leger is pushing legislation that would add that taxing authority within the district. The bill passed a House committee last week.
The possibilities including tax increment financing, typically a special sales tax that goes to pay for infrastructure to boost a commercial development.
Convention and tourism industry leaders envision a mixed-use development on 47 acres of vacant land upriver from the center, between the Pontchartrain Expressway and the Market Street power plant. The center plans to spend up to $175 million on infrastructure and improvements on Convention Center Boulevard to attract up to $1 billion in private investment in a 1,200-room hotel, condos and apartments, restaurants and entertainment.
Stephen Perry, New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau president and CEO, said there are no specific plans for tax increment financing or other taxes in the district at this point.
"The bill is really to give more flexibility for the convention center and the tourism industry to work with state legislative leaders, the governor, the mayor, the City Council and our representatives on getting a universal buy-in on the development," Perry said.
Perry said New Orleans is among the top convention and business meeting markets nationwide, and competitors are frequently upgrading hotels and attractions to get new business. The riverfront anchor hotel and neighborhood is an effort to stay competitive.
"This legislation is absolutely critical to what will be the single largest most economically powerful development in New Orleans in many, many years," he said.
"It would involve the kind of atmosphere that, along the river, would make it not only an attractive neighborhood but would create, along with Convention Center Boulevard's complete redo, a convention village that would make it a very appealing destination and make it very real," he said.
The convention center has been in talks with local real estate developers Joe Jaeger and Darryl Berger and The Howard Hughes Corp., developer of the Riverwalk and other retail and mixed use projects nationwide. Last year, they released a proposal for the new development called "The Trade District," although the head of the Convention Center has said the name isn't settled.
Bob Johnson, the center's general manager, couldn't be reached for comment this week.
In a committee meeting last week, Leger said an anchor hotel and new meeting space will allow New Orleans to stay competitive with convention cities such as Orlando, Nashville, Chicago, Atlanta and Las Vegas. Conference space at the hotel will help attract smaller but higher-end meetings, such as doctors' groups or drug manufacturers, he said. "It makes it easier for us to compete," Leger said.