July 14, 2024 1:28 PM
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NOENMCC Celebrates Anniversary of Great Hall Opening

Convention Center opened at Louisiana World Exposition 40 years ago 

submitted by New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center (NOENMCC)

NEW ORLEANS – The New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center (NOENMCC) recognizes the 40th anniversary of the Louisiana World Exposition, also known as the World’s Fair, and the opening of the Convention Center’s Great Hall in 1984. The fair hosted several events and showcases inside the Great Hall, including a two-story beating heart, a water ride and television studio, from May to November 1984. It was the last World’s Fair held in the United States, and its lasting effects have transformed the New Orleans economy and riverfront experience.

In January of 1985, the Convention Center debuted its first trade show, a helicopter exhibition. The Convention Center went on to host 28 events in that first year, exceeding initial expectations. Since 1985, activity at the Convention Center has generated over $90.1 billion in economic impact and is now one of the top-ranked venues in the world. In 2023, it welcomed 126 events and over 660,000 visitors and currently has bookings confirmed through 2040.

“The 1984 World’s Fair laid the foundation for the tourism economy the Convention Center continues to build upon today,” said Russell Allen, President of the Ernest N. Morial New Orleans Exhibition Hall Authority (the Authority). “Looking back at the lessons learned by hosting the World’s Fair and all the city gained because of that event renews our commitment to continue investing in big ideas that bring people together and benefit the city of New Orleans and our neighborhood in the long term.”

To mark the 40th anniversary of the fair, the Convention Center held a screening of a companion piece to WYES’s documentary, ‘A World’s Fair to Remember,’ and welcomed special guests, including many of the people who played integral roles in the fair. The program was hosted by Mark Romig, Director of Protocol and Guest Relations for the 1984 World’s Fair and current Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for New Orleans & Company. It featured guest speeches by Michael J. Sawaya, Convention Center President and CEO; Peggy Scott Laborde, former WDSU reporter and producer who covered World’s Fair and current host and producer of the WYES documentary; Petr Spurney, President and CEO of 1984 World’s Fair; Barry Kern, with Kern Studios; Jeanne Nathan, Director of Public Relations for 1984 World’s Fair; and Steve Dumez, World’s Fair architect.

At the screening, Sawaya acknowledged five Convention Center employees who began their careers at the World’s Fair and remain on staff at the Convention Center today. The Convention Center also displayed its collection of World’s Fair memorabilia, including pictures, passes, albums and even a World’s Fair dish set. Kern Studios brought in 5-foot-tall art pieces created for the fair and a model that was used to create the famous sculpture of Neptune driving his chariot of alligators and mermaids that stood at the fair’s entrance and is still featured, in part, at the corner of Tchoupitoulas and Henderson streets in New Orleans.

“Hosting this anniversary celebration, I am reminded of the lasting impact the World’s Fair had in New Orleans,” said Sawaya. “Investments made to land this one event changed the city’s landscape, established the Convention Center and turned an industrial hub into a thriving neighborhood where people still live and gather today. As the Convention Center fosters the next riverfront renaissance in New Orleans, we will add more of these vibrant spaces — places to live and work, to gather and celebrate, and to host multicultural celebrations and international showcases for generations to come.”

The Convention Center currently features more than 1 million square feet of prime exhibit space, all under one roof, spanning nearly 11 city blocks. Nearby, the Authority, the Convention Center’s governing body, is guiding the creation of a diverse, sustainable, and dynamic new neighborhood complete with retail, dining, greenspaces, entertainment venues, offices and a range of residential options. This new neighborhood, known as the River District Neighborhood, will open Top Golf in 2025, and Shell will construct a new headquarters for their Gulf operations, which will be the first class-A office constructed in New Orleans since 1989.

The Authority also recently approved a land purchase and letter of intent with Omni Hotel & Resorts to develop a headquarters hotel directly across the street from the Center. This new 1,000-room hotel will showcase the city’s art, experiences, heritage and upscale hospitality. It will expose a brand-new audience to New Orleans and is expected to capture $500 million in initial, new private investment from Omni, create over 1,000 permanent jobs and inject millions of dollars of new tax revenue into the economy each year.

With these developments, the Convention Center will meet the growing demands of the modern-day meetings and event market and strengthen New Orleans’ position as a top-tier destination, a position rooted in World’s Fair investments and fortified by 40 years of Convention Center strategic planning and support.

“When the Council for a Better Louisiana conceived the idea of a World’s Fair for Louisiana, foremost in their mind was for the fair to be a catalyst for the development of a world-class convention center,” said Petr Spurney. “This state-of-the-art building would first serve as the State of Louisiana Pavilion and after the fair would make New Orleans one of the top meeting/tourist destinations in the United States, if not the world. This goal was achieved beyond expectations and continues to grow with the recent announcement of a new headquarters hotel.  The 1984 World’s Fair Alumni salute and thank the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center for hosting our 40th reunion.”

About the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center (NOENMCC)

New Orleans is Built to Host! With 1.1 million square feet of prime exhibit space on one level, all under one roof, NOENMCC is the sixth largest Convention Center in the United States and provides the largest single exhibit space in the country. NOENMCC is a 2023 IAVM Venue Excellence recipient and is consistently named a regional top workplace by The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate. Our recent LEED Gold certification makes NOENMCC the largest LEED-certified project in Louisiana and the largest convention center project in the U.S. certified under LEED v4.1 Operations and Maintenance, as well as the first convention center in the world to be awarded initial certification under LEED Gold v4.1 O+M. A leading contributor to the city’s robust tourism economy, NOENMCC event activity has produced $90.1 billion in economic impact since its 1985 opening.

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