Convention Center bill to be voted on Wednesday

The Louisiana House rejected legislation Tuesday that would allow the construction of a private hotel and other development projects around the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans.

But 26 representatives were out of the House chamber at the time of the vote making it difficult to reach the 53-vote threshold needed for passage.

Supporters say they plan to bring the measure, House Bill 516, back for another vote, possibly as early as Wednesday.

The House voted 43 yeas and 36 nays on HB516, which is enough to reconsider the legislation.

State Rep. Walt Leger III, who sponsored HB516, said he would bring the legislation back for another vote on Wednesday.

The bill’s cost estimate created some confusion, the New Orleans Democrat said, along with some controversy from a previous bill that he had withdrawn temporarily because of hostile questioning. “I think some of the opposition to the previous bill before this one, bled over,” he said after the vote.

“Half of our people were gone,” said Joe Wood, lobbyist for the Louisiana Hotel and Lodging Association and the Convention Center. She said the state Senate was taking up some House members bills and they could have gone to the other chamber to watch.

“There were just too many people out. There were 26 people not there. When you look at them half of them were our people,” said Wood, adding that had those members been in the House chamber the legislation would have passed.

HB516 would allow the Ernest N. Morial-New Orleans Exhibition Hall Authority to issue tax-free bonds and other financial instruments. Leger said the legislation would allow the Convention Center to develop on property outside its footprint.

Current law does not allow the convention center to use its revenue to pay for private development and does not allow for construction of hotels on the Convention Center property.

Plans include development of parks, the 33-story World Trade Center and improvements along Convention Center Boulevard. The completed project could include a new hotel, retail stories and restaurants.

“There is a potential for public-private partnership,” Leger said. “The Convention Center thinks that they could attract as much as $1 billion in investments.”