After years of uncertainty and delay, the Ernest N. Morial New Orleans Exhibition Hall Authority Board of Commissioners has abandoned efforts to expand the Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, and instead plans to redirect some of the funds approved for the Phase IV expansion plan to renovate and upgrade existing space in the convention center.

The contract for the expansion was first awarded in 2003, but litigation delayed the start of the project. When construction was finally set to begin in summer 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit. Then, in November 2006, the board voted to re-evaluate construction of Phase IV.

Now, according to Board Chairman Warren L. Reuther Jr., the board, after looking at national trends and market demand, has concluded that “near-term construction of Phase IV would not be in the best interests of the city, state, or hospitality industry.”

Two years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is still struggling to attract the large, association-sponsored citywide events the convention center expansion was meant to accommodate. Meanwhile, the city continues to pursue the corporate meetings market. In a statement announcing the board’s decision, Reuther said re-allocating some of the approved funds toward an upgrade of the existing center would give New Orleans “a distinct competitive advantage in the pursuit of corporate and executive conferences and other corporate business events.”

New Orleans “is seeing an increase in short-term corporate business, and we expect this trend to continue,” said Kelly Schulz, vice president, communications and public relations, New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The investment in the existing convention center building will benefit all customers by enhancing the amenities and finishes with more rich tones and casual seating areas. Especially for corporate customers with smaller meetings, it will allow us to compete with mega-convention hotels by providing an experience in one part of the center that feels more like being in a hotel than in one of the nation's largest convention centers.”