New Orleans Continues to Make Post-Katrina Upgrades

Four years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, by all accounts, is thriving. There is still work to be done, though, and projects are underway to propel the city onward and steel it against future disasters.

New Orleans' Louis Armstrong International Airport has begun a $350 million renovation project that will include a $114 million rental car facility, $9 million in exterior upgrades, a $40.5 million expansion of Concourse D and $21 million in interior upgrades, including improvements to information displays. Baggage handling systems in the East and West terminals will be replaced, and a new 250-room onsite hotel is under consideration. The entire project is scheduled for completion before New Orleans hosts the 2013 Super Bowl.

New Orleans Aviation Board chairman Dan Packer is working to secure $30.8 million from the Louisiana Recovery Authority for three safety projects at the airport: a $17 million flood-resistant utility building, a new $10.3 million Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting station and a new $3.5 million airfield lighting vault.

The utility building would ensure basic HVAC capabilities in the event of a disaster, for both the comfort and safety of individuals and to limit mold growth. The airport served as a field hospital and an evacuation point following Katrina, but the facility was without electricity for three days.

The airfield lighting vault would enable airport management to relocate the existing airfield lighting vault and replace outdated components. Packer noted, "This is another key safety element that was nonfunctioning after Hurricane Katrina, thereby limiting flights to day operations during clear weather conditions. Even during normal rainfall events, darkness or foggy conditions, airfield lighting is essential to safe operations."

On the hotel front, the landmark Roosevelt New Orleans has reopened as part of the Waldorf Astoria Collection following a $145 million restoration and offers 504 revamped guest rooms, with 135 luxury suites. The Sazerac Bar and Restaurant incorporates Art Deco-style murals by artist Paul Ninas and original ornate woodwork. Another F&B outlet, the Blue Room, also received an overhaul, and the onsite Guerlain Spa offers 10 treatment rooms, a VIP area and hydrotherapy facilities.

Twelve New Orleans Marriott International hotels launched a promotion in which planners who book meetings receive eco-friendly bonuses, such as a $150 gift certificate to organic gift site ecoexpress.com or a membership to Organic Wine of the Month Club. Following the meeting, Marriott will donate 5 percent of the group's guest room costs to Amazonas Sustainable Foundation, which protects 1.4 million acres of an endangered rainforest in Brazil.

On Nov. 6, the National WWII Museum planned to open the first phase of a $300 million expansion, which includes a restaurant by celebrity chef John Besh, the Stage Door Canteen and the Victory Theater.

The museum highlights the American experience in World War II, and when the project is complete, it will comprise a six-acre campus of exhibition pavilions, as well as a research and conference center.

Visiting groups are quick to lend a hand during their stays in the Big Easy. When the Professional Convention Management Association came to town for its annual meeting in January, nearly 400 attendees participated in three community service projects. The St. Bernard project helped victims of Katrina paint, spackle and rebuild their homes, volunteers landscaped historic tombs in the Save Our Cemeteries initiative, and attendees trimmed, planted and cleared areas to beautify City Park.

Originally published Nov. 16, 2009