Plans for a $1-billion riverfront entertainment district moved forward after New Orleans convention center officials selected a developer to transform an adjacent, 39-acre site into the new destination.
Following presentations earlier in the week, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center board on March 24 voted to select River District Neighborhood Investors LLC to design and build the entertainment district, upriver from the Crescent City Connection bridge.
The development would encompass 2.4 million sq ft of mixed-use space over two phases. Construction, estimated to take four years, would begin in 2022, with some components reaching completion as early as 2023.
Officials with River District—led by New Orleans developer Louis Lauricella of Lauricella Land Co.—are calling the development a “generational opportunity” to convert a dormant property into a regional attraction that will help bring in more conventions, trade shows and events.
“This is a historic project for the city of New Orleans that will create tremendous value for the Convention Center and the community,” says Lauricella, citing an analysis by HR&A Advisors Inc. The project is estimated to provide 9,000 construction jobs, and 5,900 permanent jobs once fully developed, according to Lauricella.
Under the River District proposal, the development would feature affordable and market-rate housing, retail, dining options and a corporate/tech campus. It would also include a civil rights museum and other cultural attractions, an entertainment venue, a 150-room boutique hotel, parks and art installations.
Designs for the development leave room for the possibility of extending the riverfront streetcar line to reach the River District. Extending the line and including two new cars would cost an estimated $40 million.
The River District development team includes locally and regionally based firms, including Boh Bros. Construction, Broadmoor Construction, Gibbs Construction and The Lemoine Co.
“Our construction teams will be local, with the biggest and most experienced names in the business partnering together,” Lauricella says.
For the design team, River District tapped global architecture and design firm Gensler for expertise on sustainable design, along with New Orleans-based Manning Architects for its insights on local design. River District is seeking LEED certification under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Neighborhood Development rating system.
The developer has indicated an intent to prioritize inclusion for its projects and is targeting 30% participation from small business and disadvantaged firms. The investment team consists of 27% Black ownership and 18% ownership by women.
The development will take place in two phases, the first of which will begin with road and infrastructure improvements funded by the Convention Center’s governing authority. The 875,000-sq-ft first phase will also include the construction of all roads and sidewalks, plus an 85,000-sq-ft entertainment venue, a 40,000-sq-ft cultural museum, 95,000 sq ft of retail, a 150-room boutique hotel and a possible 150-room teaching hotel.
The project's first 100 days will include site planning, preliminary civil engineering design, pre-construction estimating, elevations, architectural design and rezoning. The developer estimates the first phase of construction will take 18 to 24 months, with completed components opening in fall 2023.
The development’s second phase—comprising the land closest to the river—will encompass nearly 1.5 million sq ft, and will feature a 750,000 sq ft corporate/tech campus, 30,000 sq ft of specialty retail and dining options, 150 apartment hotel rooms and 500 residential units. Construction of this phase is slated to begin in fall 2023 with completion by 2026.
The development is the latest piece of a five-year, $557-million expansion plan approved in 2018 for the Convention Center. That plan included a $50-million linear park that was completed last fall, along with a proposed high-rise hotel and interior upgrades to the convention center.