The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center may have found private developers to help carry out its ambitious plan of developing 47 acres of vacant land at the upriver end of the giant meeting hall into a hotel, residences and restaurants.
The facility’s governing board has given the staff permission to begin vetting a proposal from a joint team of the Howard Hughes Corp. and local developers Joe Jaeger and Darryl Berger that includes, among other things, a plan for 250,000 square feet of retail, food and beverage space along the river from Henderson Street to Market Street.
The proposal came in response to the Convention Center’s request last summer for ideas on redeveloping the large tract that once was slated to become 500,000 square feet of additional exhibit space for the 1.1 million-square-foot meeting hall.
The Convention Center bought the land in 2000 for $45 million.
The center put that “Phase 4” expansion plan on hold in 2006, after Hurricane Katrina. It said last year it planned instead to invest $150 million to improve infrastructure on the plot to attract interest from private developers who might spend at least another $700 million to build restaurants, entertainment venues, apartments and a hotel there.
Dallas-based Howard Hughes Corp. and the team of Jaeger and Berger initially submitted two separate proposals in response to the Convention Center’s request for expressions of interest. The parties notified the center last month that they had decided to merge, Convention Center General Manager Bob Johnson said.
Hughes is an experienced national retail developer and the owner of the nearby Outlet Collection at the Riverwalk. Jaeger and Berger are both successful local hotel developers.
“Those two talents combined will give us the best opportunity to proceed with the project,” Johnson said. “But we need to make sure that the developers’ plan matches with what we envision for the site.”
The Convention Center’s “vision plan” calls for a developer or multiple developers to sign a long-term lease agreement for the property and then work with the center to plan a “convention-quality headquarters hotel” with a minimum of 1,000 rooms, comparable to the Sheraton and Marriott hotels on Canal Street.
The upriver end of the Convention Center would be connected to the hotel by a pedestrian bridge over Henderson Street.
Earlier this month, the Convention Center took the first step in implementing its master plan by approving a resolution to begin construction of a $65 million linear park along Convention Center Boulevard from Poydras to Henderson streets. The park would be a key part of creating a pedestrian-friendly corridor that is envisioned as a way to connect the Warehouse District to the French Quarter.
The proposal under consideration from Howard Hughes, Berger and Jaeger includes a large hotel, residences, a performance venue, an executive conference center, various dining areas and a “cultural campus” for research.
Johnson said the meeting hall board is pleased with the proposal but still needs to work out details of the project, which would take years to complete.
“This is the road we intend to go down,” Johnson said. “We’re excited about it because we have the best of both worlds, a national developer and a local developer.”
Johnson said the Convention Center hopes to sign a memorandum of understanding with the developers by midsummer. That agreement would be followed by more detailed plans and, perhaps by the end of the year, a development agreement awarding exclusive leasing rights to the site.