NEW ORLEANS - It's a major part of the city’s economic engine, with a $1.5 billion economic impact each year. And officials have big plans to improve the area in and around the Earnest N. Morial Convention Center.
“Our forward is to continue to grow and continue to bring more options of meeting goers and visitors to the city,” said Melvin Rodrigue, president of the Ernest N, Morial- New Orleans Exhibition Hall Authority.
But Rodrigue said that vision was dealt a blow when Governor Bobby Jindal vetoed a bill Friday that would have helped provide a funding source for a major expansion project.
“We were somewhat surprised by the veto yesterday and disappointed but our resolve is strong,” said Rodrigue.
Jindal said he vetoed the bill because it authorized the sale of tax free bonds, which would have counted against the state's debt limit. But Representative Walt Leger, D- New Orleans, believes the bonds would not have counted against the state’s debt limit and hopes to override the veto.
“It is a set back to the efforts to expand our ability to compete. It's set back to the renovation and restoration of Convention Center Boulevard area,” said Leger.
The money would have been used for improvements on Convention Center Boulevard, as well as the development of 60 acres of land upriver from the Convention Center, and improvements to the Convention Center itself.
The goal is to provide dining, lodging, and entertainment options along the river near the Convention Center, and build up the South side of the facility.
"It is naturally disappointing that this bill has been halted at the governor's desk. I encourage all parties to revisit this issue and craft legislation we can agree on. In the interim, I think we can all agree that the Morial Convention Center is at the heart of our city's economic engine, and a big factor in the tax dollars we send to the state, and we need to do all we can to improve it as a facility and improve access to the complex," said Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, District B.
The bill also included a funding source for the redevelopment or re-purposing of the World Trade Center.
Tourism officials want to tear it down and build a monument, while private developers hope to save the former World Trade Center and turn it into a luxury hotel and apartment building.
“The veto has no impact whatsoever on our ability to save and redevelop the building, our proposal is $190 million of private capital,” said David Garcia, of DAG Development.
Convention Center officials say expansion projects have always involved different types of funding. And they plan to spend the next few weeks taking a close look at the best way to move forward.
Meanwhile, it would take a two thirds vote from lawmakers to override the veto.