Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans
Louisiana lends a hand in times of need
It’s been a tumultuous few months for the state of Louisiana. After one of the worst natural disasters since Hurricane Katrina, parishes surrounding Baton Rouge and Lafayette continue to grapple with wreckage and damages precipitated from catastrophic flooding in August. Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency after the historic, unpreceded storm dropped 7.1 trillion gallons of water on the southern half of the state.
This time, however, New Orleans, the national symbol of resilience and recovery, stood relatively dry and has served as an example for its neighbors, lending emergency relief efforts and support in assessing the needs of those impacted by the floods. The following week, Crescent City became a second haven to the 2017 NBA All-Star Game after the organization pulled the event from North Carolina amid passage of the controversial House Bill 2 (HB2).
“Even in the midst of a historic crisis, I am excited that the NBA has recognized how great the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana are,” Edwards said. “In Louisiana, one of the strongest bonds that unite all of us is our passion for sports. Not only will NBA fans be able to participate in the All-Star Game events; they will also be a part of our world-famous Mardi Gras festivities. The fan experience can’t get any better than that.”
Stephen Perry, president and CEO of New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau echoed the sentiment. “New Orleans has always been a destination that welcomes all. Count on us to maintain New Orleans’ nearly 300-year-old history of tolerance and hospitality regardless of nationality, religion, sexual orientation or any other criteria that limits our full potential. This is the mark of a world-class city.”
Hotel Monteleone, New Orleans
Returning the act of goodwill, the NBA and NBA Players Association joined the league’s New Orleans Pelicans and NFL New Orleans Saints to provide financial and other ongoing support toward flood rescue, relief and rebuilding homes and businesses of thousands of affected residents. It’s a testament to Louisiana’s stance as a welcoming place for meetings, conventions and high-profile events, no matter the circumstance.
“New Orleans and the entire state of Louisiana continue to be open for business and are ready to welcome visitors from around the world,” says Cara Banasch, senior vice president of business development and strategy for New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Thanks to a strong and dedicated hospitality community, we are prepared and excited to host such major events as the NBA All-Star Game and annual favorites such as Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest. New Orleans is a one-of-a-kind destination with a long history of hosting world-class events.”
Edwards also thanked the NBA for its vote of confidence in the state’s ability to host the sports event, which is expected to generate an estimated $100 million in statewide economic impact. It will be the third time New Orleans has held the NBA All-Star Game, having previously hosted it in 2008 and 2014. Next year’s festivities will take place in February at Smoothie King Center, adjacent to Mercedes-Benz Superdome where the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and NBA Development League All-Star Game will occur.
Bourbon Street, New Orleans
Strength in Unity
As some states have trended toward passing discriminatory legislation aimed at minority groups, Louisiana has become an oasis of acceptance in the Deep South. After Edwards took office in January, he promised statewide protections for members of the LGBT community.
On April 13, Edwards signed an executive order barring state workers and state contractors from being fired, discriminated against or harassed based on their gender identity and sexual orientation. The executive order also prohibits discrimination in services provided by state agencies, while recognizing an exemption for churches and religious organizations.
LGBT groups noted that it was the first time a Louisiana governor has taken formal action to defend the rights of transgender state employees and citizens seeking state services. Edwards also rescinded the Marriage and Conscience Act, which gave protections for state government employees who opposed same-sex marriage.
“We respect our fellow citizens for their beliefs, but we do not discriminate based on our disagreements,” Edwards said. “I believe in giving every Louisianan the opportunity to be successful and to thrive in our state. Our goal is to promote the opportunities we have right here in Louisiana. While this executive order respects the religious beliefs of our people, it also signals to the rest of the country that discrimination is not a Louisiana value, but rather, that Louisiana is a state that is respectful and inclusive of everyone around us.”
It was this historic legislation which led the NBA to choose New Orleans as host city for the All-Star games. Following the organization’s decision to relocate the event in July, it remarked long-standing core values of the league—including diversity, inclusion, fairness and respect for others—were in direct opposition to the enacted HB2 law and issue of legal protections for the LGBT community.
“Our weeklong schedule of All-Star events and activities is intended to be a global celebration of basketball, our league and the values for which we stand, and to bring together all members of the NBA community,” the NBA stated. “While we recognize that the NBA cannot choose the law in every city, state and country in which we do business, we do not believe we can successfully host our All-Star festivities in Charlotte in the climate created by HB2.”
Ace Hotel New Orleans
Equality Impacts Business
New Orleans and Shreveport are the only cities in Louisiana to have nondiscrimination ordinances in place. The Shreveport Fairness Ordinance was passed in 2013 to forbid discrimination in the areas of employment, housing and public spaces toward LGBT citizens. The municipal ordinance underlines an executive order by Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover, who signed protections for gay and transgender city employees in 2009.
The northern Louisiana city, third-largest in the state, is where medical, service and creative industries are based. Shreveport is home to Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center and the Academy Award-winning Moonbot Studios. According to Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce, the protective laws have fostered competitive, business-friendly economies that employ workers of all backgrounds.
“The Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce has supported nondiscrimination protections for LGBT workers at both the state level and locally for years, and we congratulate Gov. Edwards on making it official that state workers and employees of state contractors will not be discriminated against,” said Rev. Lindy Broderick, executive vice president of Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce. “A welcoming and fair workplace is not only the right thing to do, but is good for business. Companies, cities and states seeking to attract top talent and build a competitive workforce make it clear they do not discriminate.”
In New Orleans’ Central Business District, the Convention Center District Development plan (C2D2) will revitalize 47 acres surrounding Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, in anticipation of the city’s tricentennial in 2018. According to Tim Hemphill, vice president of sales and marketing for the convention center, the $1 billion mixed-use project will include housing, retail and a 1,200-room headquarters hotel near Hilton New Orleans Riverside. The convention center is one of the largest, most technologically advanced facilities, with 1.1 million sq. ft. of contiguous exhibit space.
Construction has also begun on a new state-of-the-art terminal at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY), which served a record-breaking 10 million passengers in 2015. The $826 million project will have 30 gates, a 2,000-car parking garage, a central utility plant and a ground transportation staging area. Already, the airport has received more than $350 million in improvements over the last few years. Once completed, the terminal is projected to have a $3.2 billion annual economic impact on tourism citywide.
Lafayette Weathers the Storm
Three months after the Louisiana floods, the city of Lafayette, one of the hardest hit areas, is on the mend and open for business. It’s a resounding statement by Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission, considering around 3,000 homes and businesses were impacted by torrential storms, pounding the region with 2 feet of rain.
“Absolutely there were many of our neighborhoods affected by the floods,” says Benjamin Berthelot, president and CEO of Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission. “To get back to some normalcy, the day after the flood you couldn’t tell that anything had happened. There were still restaurants open and zydeco music playing in the streets. We were never out of business.”
Although many residents still remain displaced, visitors to the region have been largely taken care of. Most of the damages occurred in the neighborhoods and surrounding parishes, Berthelot notes. After the storm, Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission’s primary focus was working with hotels to accommodate those without housing. The organization also assisted the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and others to organize housing for the stream of workers, volunteers and contractors coming in to support rebuilding efforts.
Berthelot said only a few meetings in Lafayette were postponed because of the floods, mostly due to affected membership from other parts of the state. With many people stranded in the area, hotels saw an immediate bump in occupancy during the second half of August into the beginning of September.
“From a facilities standpoint and from a hotel standpoint, we’re blowing and going,” Berthelot says. “There has not been any real impact as a result of the floods.”
A region known for its strong Cajun and Creole culture, Lafayette has a number of large meeting facilities. Cajundome Convention Center (pictured) regularly holds many festivals and conventions, including Louisiana Comic Con, which drew 10,000 people last month. It offers more than 72,000 sq. ft. of event space on two levels, including a 37,300-square-foot exhibit arena. The adjacent Cajundome is a 13,500-seat arena.
Lafayette Regional Airport (LFT) is preparing for a slew of long overdue facility updates. Earlier this year, the airport broke ground on a $5.1 million cargo facility. Still in the planning phases, a $90 million project will bring improvements to its 57-year-old passenger terminal. The new terminal will hold five gates, with the ability to expand to seven. It will boast a number of local design elements, along with a new restaurant on the other side of security.
“Lafayette is the last commercial airport in Louisiana that hasn’t been remodeled or got a brand new terminal,” said Robert Callahan, airport spokesperson and consultant with Sides & Associates, a marketing and communications agency.
Major Meeting Venues
Ace Hotel New Orleans
Boutique hotel in Warehouse District; opened in March; located in historic 1928 Art Deco building; 234 guest rooms; 5,635 sq. ft. of event space; Josephine Estelle signature restaurant.
Aloft New Orleans Downtown
Opened last year; 188 guest rooms; 3,598 sq. ft. of meeting space; W XYZ bar; ADA-compliant hotel; complimentary Wi-Fi; pet friendly.
Ernest N. Morial Convention Center
1.1 million sq. ft. of exhibit space; 140 meeting rooms; 4,000-seat auditorium; 60,300-square-foot Great Hall Ballroom opened in 2013; new headquarters hotel to be completed by 2018.
Iconic AAA Four Diamond hotel in French Quarter; built in 1886; 570 guest rooms, including 55 luxury suites; more than 24,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; Carousel Bar & Lounge.
Hyatt Centric French Quarter New Orleans
Newly rebranded lifestyle hotel; 254 guest rooms; more than 10,660 sq. ft. of function space; Jackson Square, Riverwalk and French Market are within walking distance.
Hyatt House New Orleans/Downtown
Recently opened last year; 194 studio and one-bedroom suites; located in Central Business District; more than 600 sq. ft. of meeting space; close to Mercedes-Benz Superdome and Smoothie King Center.
JW Marriott New Orleans
French Quarter hotel; two concierge levels; 494 guest rooms; 21,866 sq. ft. of meeting space; 18 event venues; Fogo de Chao steakhouse.
Le Meridien New Orleans
Recently completed $29 million renovation; steps from French Quarter, Harrah’s Casino and Warehouse District; 410 renovated guest rooms; more than 20,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space; LMNO restaurant.
Loews New Orleans
Across street from Harrah’s Casino; one-quarter mile to convention center and French Quarter; 285 guest rooms; 17,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; adjacent Piazza d’Italia outdoor venue.
Sports and exhibition facility in central business district; home of NFL New Orleans Saints; 162,500 sq. ft. of arena space; flexible seating for up to 73,000; Champions Square outdoor venue.
Sheraton New Orleans
Just steps from Mississippi River; 1,110 guest rooms; AAA Four Diamond meeting facility with more than 105,700 sq. ft. of space; Pelican Bar and Roux Bistro.
Smoothie King Center
Adjacent to Mercedes-Benz Superdome and close to 25,000 hotel rooms; 13,090 sq. ft. of space on main arena floor; flexible seating for up to 17,500; ADA-seating available.