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New Orleans Convention Center Spotlight: Eat, Sleep & Play

by F. Andrew Taylor

EAT

If there’s anything New Orleans likes more than music, it’s food, but a true local would have a hard time separating the two. Everyone has their favorites, and there are several not far from the convention center. Just across the street is Mulates, the Original Cajun Restaurant, 201 Julia St., one of the premiere Cajun dine and dance halls. It features live Cajun music and dancing along with great Cajun food seven days a week. Emeril’s New Orleans, 800 Tchoupitoulas St., is four blocks up the street. It is Emeril Lagasse’s flagship restaurant built in a renovated pharmacy warehouse and famed for its contemporary New Orleans cuisine. It has earned rave reviews and accolades for nearly 25 years, including Esquire magazine’s “Restaurant of the Year” and Wine Spectator’s “Grand Award” every year since 2000. Despite its celebrity chef roots, it offers great service in a festive, unpretentious setting. For more of a laid back, down home breakfast or lunch, there is Two Chicks Cafe, 901 Convention Center Blvd #109. The café is owned and operated by two friends with a passion for food and a love for New Orleans. Everything is handcrafted by the Two Chicks, including fresh squeezed juices, smoothies, breakfast, artisan sandwiches and salads.

SLEEP

There are many well-known hotel chains within walking distance of The MCCNO with a range of amenities and price ranges, but for a more unique New Orleans experience there are places like The Blake Hotel, adjacent to Lafayette Square, with on-property dining at Café at the Square. For a hotel that looks exactly like a postcard of New Orleans, The Royal Sonesta New Orleans, 300 Bourbon St., offers a cobbled, plant-lined courtyard, a saltwater pool and wrought iron balcony railings. There is also a 6,000-piece art collection right in the heart of Bourbon Street. For those looking for that same quaint, New Orleans charm, but without being surrounded by the joyful madness of Bourbon Street, there is Soniat House. The hotel is small, high end and quiet, while still just a leisurely stroll to more exuberant parts of the French Quarter.

PLAY

The Big Easy is a place that celebrates play in ways that few other cities can hold a candle to. Did we mention the French Quarter and Bourbon Street? Jazz clubs, Cajun dining, seafood and a wide array of oddities abound there. There is a Mardi Gras Museum, a Museum of Jazz and a New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum. For those interested in a more practical application of voodoo, there are many shops that can sell you the tools, including Marie Laveau’s House Of Voodoo, 739 Bourbon St. The city is also home to one of the country’s classic zoos, The Audubon Zoo. To no one’s surprise, there’s a song about it. There are several live theaters in the town, including a cluster of vintage theaters near Canal and Rampart Streets. A visitor can walk between Joy Theater, Saenger Theatre and the Orpheum Theater in minutes and see their beautiful architecture. The city is a treasure trove for visitors with an eye for unique and historical architecture and the joyful spirit of the city. It isn’t really a challenge to jump in with both feet and “let the good times roll,” or, as the locals say, “Laissez les bons temps rouler!”

Convention Center Spotlight: The New Orleans Morial Convention Center

The New Orleans Morial Convention Center has made a habit of overcoming adversity. The first buildings that became the convention center were built as part of the Great Hall of the World’s Fair in 1984, which was  the first world exposition to declare bankruptcy during the event and the last to be held in the U.S.

The following year the convention center was established and in1992 it was named in honor of Ernest N. Morial, the city’s first African American mayor. In August 2005, Wheel of Fortune came to tape three weeks of shows at the MCCNO but as Hurricane Katrina neared, they canceled the last week in order to evacuate. The MCCNO was the second most important shelter for survivors, after the Louisiana Superdome but there was no power, water, food, medical supplies, proper sanitation and public order for several days with thousands of survivors staying there.

Despite that, the convention center thrives. It is the sixth largest convention facility in the U.S., with 3 million sq.ft. of world class, continuously improved meeting space of which 1.1 million sq.ft. of contiguous exhibit space. It consistently ranks in the country’s top ten of facilities that hold the most conventions and tradeshows annually. More than 2,600 major conventions and tradeshows have taken place there since 1984 and it has been host to more than 15 million attendees and industry leaders from all over the world.

A complete renovation of the facility in 2006 included the creation of the 4,032-seat New Orleans Theater, a concert hall used primarily for concerts, Broadway stage shows, and other special events. In 2008, it was renamed the New Orleans Morial Convention Center in order to emphasize its location.

The convention center is located on the Mississippi River, about a mile south of the city’s famous French Quarter. The operators of the MCCNO believe it is an essential component of what makes the city’s major business events so successful.

In June, the MCCNO Authority adopted a $557 million five-year capital improvement plan that includes renovations of the 34-year old center and a convention center headquarters hotel with a physical connection to the center. A  7.5-acre pedestrian park that spans the length of the center along Convention Center Boulevard is planned to create a picturesque and safer space for visitors. The project is projected to be complete in 2020.

This story originally appeared in the November/December issue of Exhibit City News, p. 60. For original layout, visit https://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/ecn_flipbook_novdec2018

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