When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in August, 2005, the resulting chaos and devastation made headlines around the world. Yet if such a horrific disaster can have a silver lining, it is this: Katrina was the catalyst that inspired a strong sense of renewal and purpose. As a result, New Orleans has rebounded splendidly and is now a more desirable destination than ever for groups.
The evidence is everywhere. A host of tourism-centric programs are underway, including South Market District (focused on luxury apartments, retail, restaurants and entertainment venues in the heart of downtown); Reinventing the Crescent (redeveloping six miles of unused industrial and commercial space along the Mississippi River); and Canal Street Development Corp. (revitalizing the intersection of Canal and Basin Streets into a performing-arts district).
On the meetings side, there’s plenty afoot, too. Fully 26 hotels have renovated, including the 126-year-old Hotel Monteleone, in the French Quarter. Following a multi-million-dollar, top-to-bottom facelift, the 600-room Monteleone added 3,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, which now totals 23,000 sq. ft..
New hotels have come onto the scene. In January, 2012, after a $45-million purchase and transformation, boutique-style The Saint Hotel New Orleans threw open its doors. Launched in December, 2011, was 135-room The Hotel Modern, following a major makeover and rebranding of Le Cirque hotel.
Another potent symbol of the city’s renewal is the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Centre, which, post-Katrina, has reclaimed its spot as one of the premier convention venues in the U.S. Featuring 1.1-million sq. ft. of contiguous exhibition space, the convention centre will, in January, 2013, unveil a 60,300-sq.-ft. divisible Great Hall, part of a $50-million refurbishment—in time for the city hosting the 2013 Super Bowl.
Doubtless during the Super Bowl, great use will be made of Champions Square, a 121,000-sq.-ft. outdoor festival space adjoining the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The adjacent Club XLIV offers 9,500 sq. ft. of elegant space.
On the food front, New Orleans has more restaurants than ever—not surprising, since “this is a city that talks about the next meal while enjoying every bite of the current one,” says Nikki Moon, vice-president, convention sales, New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. Home to the most distinctive regional cuisine in North America, the city now boasts 1,315 eateries, compared to 805 pre-hurricane—a decisive rebuke to Katrina.
And a delicious rebuke, too! Must-try eateries include Cochon —widely considered the best restaurant to open post-Katrina—specializing in traditional Cajun Southern fare, and R’evolution (opened in June, 2012), which reimagines classic Cajun and Creole dishes. For a round-up of New Orleans restaurants visited on this FAM, visit MeetingsCanada.com and search, “New Orleans on a Plate.”
New Orleans has surged in other ways. Thanks to generous state tax incentives, the city is now the third-largest centre in the U.S. (behind only Los Angeles and New York) for movie shoots. Capitalizing on this is The Original New Orleans Movie Tours. Led by personable host Jonathan Ray, the tour visits over 30 city locations used in movie shoots. At each stop, tour-goers watch a video clip of the movie scene featuring that location, providing fascinating context. Groups up to 50 can be accommodated.
But the most life-affirming symbol of New Orleans’ resurgence is the voluntourism programs that have arisen post-Katrina. St. Bernard Project, for instance, is a non-profit rebuilding organization assisting vulnerable families, senior citizens and disabled residents still struggling post-hurricane. On a steamy July morning, I was part of a group assisting with the renovation of a hard-luck family’s home in St. Bernard Parish. Seeing, first-hand, this organization’s good work brought New Orleans’ renewal into sharp, poignant focus.
And proves that you can’t keep a good city down.
Opened in June, 2012, 750-acre NOLA Motorsports Park offers go-karting, road racing, drag racing and dyno tuning—and specialized options such as skid cars and hot laps (on race-prepared Mustang FR500S cars and Nissan GT-Rs). nolamotor.com
Louis Armstrong N.O. Int’l Airport, MSY
New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Centre
New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, which still reigns supreme in the city’s clubs and bars.
New Orleans is the largest port on the Gulf of Mexico, the second largest in the U.S. and the third largest in the world, in volume of cargo handled.