In 1718, the explorer Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville found a bend in the Mississippi River and decided it was the ideal location to establish the city of Nouvelle-Orleans. In 2018, New Orleans will celebrate its tricentennial, and government and tourism leaders have been planning how to do that for a while now. There have been plenty of roadblocks.
New Orleans' hopes of landing Super Bowl LII in 2018 were dashed earlier this year, and Mayor Mitch Landrieu's idea of remaking now-closed Charity Hospital into a civic center, with government offices and courtrooms under one roof, seems to be off the table as well, due to lack of funding.
For a while, redevelopment of the former World Trade Center site on the riverfront was touted as a linchpin of the city's 300th birthday celebration. But that project has stalled once again. Last year, the city examined three proposals and selected Gatehouse Capital Corporation to redevelop the site, but the deal fell apart in May when the city and the company could not come to financial terms. Looking at the plans again, it's probably for the best; Gatehouse's vision included trimming the skyscraper in purple and adding an "iconic structure" (a giant neon Ferris wheel) on the river. While modern and historic architecture can coexist in exciting ways — think of Berlin's skyline, or I.M. Pei's glass pyramid outside Paris' Louvre Museum — Gatehouse's plan would have fit better in Miami or Las Vegas than just upriver from the French Quarter.
Meanwhile, plans are chugging along for a more utilitarian iconic structure — a new Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has promised $83.38 million in discretionary funding for construction of a new north terminal on the Interstate 10 side of the current East-West runway, and last week U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond announced the first $21 million was on its way. New Orleans City Councilman Jared Brossett, who heads the city's Transportation and Airport Committee, said the FAA's total commitment to the project is $95.5 million. The entire project will be funded by a mix of federal grants, bonds and Aviation Board capital funds.
The new north terminal will have many advantages over the old one on Airline Highway.
The existing airport has long been out of date. The building that comprises most of the main terminal was built in 1959 and has seen several redesigns and add-ons, none of which has integrated well with the original structure. In the 1970s, Concourses A and B were added, and Concourse D was built in the 1990s. Several years ago, the airport got a facelift in anticipation of Super Bowl XLVII; the project took four years and cost an estimated $300 million. Along with the infrastructure improvements, the airport also (somewhat) modernized its transportation options, including the construction of an integrated car rental facility on site and a revamp of the taxi queue process.
But not even four years of work and millions of dollars could give New Orleans the airport it needs (and deserves). The new north terminal will have many advantages over the old one on Airline Highway, including a better location. Situated just off Interstate 10 in Kenner, the new terminal will jump-start business development on Loyola Avenue and Veterans Memorial Boulevard. At a January press conference announcing plans for the new terminal, guests were shown renderings of a graceful "double boomerang" structure made of glass, with a luxury hotel on site. The new terminal also will include an area for shops and restaurants, the lack of which is a frequent complaint of travelers at the current airport.
In April, Airline Weekly reported that Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport was the fastest-growing airport in the country. While we ranked 37th in the number of passengers handled in 2013 (9.2 million, less than one-tenth of the number who passed through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport), our growth was 7 percent over the year before. That trend shows no sign of slacking, particularly if we attract more international flights, as tourism officials hope. The new north terminal will be ideal for passenger flights to Mexico and Central America.
The money that arrived last week reminds us that our new airport is scheduled to open in less than four years — in May 2018, as the city celebrates its tricentennial. New Orleans already has many iconic structures, the biggest of which is the French Quarter. We hope that the iconic structure that best represents New Orleans' 300th birthday will be a gleaming new airport that welcomes visitors (and returning New Orleanians) for generations to come.