August 24, 2005
Construction of Phase IV of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans is ready to go forward. Facility officials have signed a $315 million contract with Louisiana-based Broadmoor Construction Co. to expand the center. Work will begin Sept. 1, to be completed in January 2009. The construction will comprise a separate building with a pedestrian skywalk connecting it to the existing center. It will offer 524,000 square feet of exhibit space in two halls, 61 meeting rooms and a 60,000-square-foot ballroom. When finished, the convention center will have a total of 1.6 million square feet of exhibit space, three ballrooms, 201 meeting rooms and a 4,000-seat auditorium.

Passports might not be needed for Caribbean travel next year after all. The U.S. Department of State is reconsidering the deadline of Dec. 31, 2005, for requiring passports for all travel (by air or sea) to or from the Caribbean, Bermuda, and Central and South America. The business travel community has opposed the phase-in of passport requirements under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which requires passports for travel outside the United States by Jan. 1, 2008. "The drop dead date was always Jan. 1, 2008," says a State Department spokesperson. "The other dates that have been reported were always proposed dates, never set in stone."

Two Dallas hotels, the Hyatt Regency Dallas at Reunion and the Hyatt Regency DFW International Airport, have contracted to buy all their electricity from the Green Mountain Energy Co., which sells power generated from wind, water, the sun and other renewable resources. According to Green Mountain, by using the renewable energy, each year the hotels could prevent as much air pollution as is generated by more than 4,400 cars annually. "This was a chance to make a very public statement about the responsibility we have to be good community stewards," said Steve Vissotzky, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Dallas.

A $150 million Amanresort is planned near Lake Powell in Utah. To be called Amangiri, the 670-acre property will offer 24 suites and 28 villas. Construction will begin at the end of this year, with an opening scheduled for mid-2007.

Marriott International is developing two properties in Puerto Rico. San Juan's historic 248-room La Concha Hotel, closed since 1990, will reopen under the Renaissance brand in December 2006, with 10,200 square feet of meeting space. Also in San Juan, the 139-room Courtyard by Marriott Miramar will open later this year, following a renovation of the former Excelsior Hotel; it will have one small meeting room. Future resorts for Marriott's Caribbean portfolio will likely be on "boutique islands," said one executive.

The 409-room Hartford Marriott Downtown, which is connected to the new Connecticut Convention Center, will celebrate its grand opening on Thursday. The hotel has 13,500 square feet of meeting space, including an 8,300-square-foot-ballroom, a rooftop pool and spa area, a 183-seat restaurant and a street-level bar.