By New Orleans CityBusiness
New Orleans CityBusiness, a weekly business newspaper, has named Michael J. Sawaya, Convention Center President, as one of New Orleans’ most notable Industry Newsmakers in the field of tourism. This special distinction is given out to individuals who make headlines for their newsworthy contributions to their respective industry and consumers they serve. Since joining the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in early 2018, Sawaya has stewarded multiple transformative projects that will reshape the facility, positioning it to enhance its competitiveness in the national event industry and its place in the New Orleans community.
Among the largest projects of the $557 million Capital Improvement Plan that Sawaya has seen to completion was the construction of a 7.5-acre Pedestrian Park that runs the entire length of the Convention Center, transforming the way New Orleanians interact with the facility, improving the safety of Convention Center Boulevard, and providing external customers with brand-new ways to enjoy their stay at the facility.
Sawaya also implemented one of the largest environmental improvement projects to ever be completed in the gulf coast area, which saw the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center transition to energy-efficient LED lighting, improvements to the facility’s water usage, as well as upgrades to its heating and cooling systems, significantly reducing the Convention Center’s carbon footprint by lowering the amount of water and electricity needed to run the three million square foot facility.
Additionally, Sawaya implemented policies that have positioned the Convention Center as a national leader in providing real opportunities to Small and Emerging Businesses (SEB) and Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBE). Through its policies during his tenure, the Convention Center aggressively promotes the hiring of local vendors for the purchase of goods and services and has created easy access to new business opportunities.
Since the program launched in 2019, the Convention Center’s program has increased SEB/DBE contracts by 36%, increased payments from 2% to 20%, registered 1187 new businesses, grown the database to 1250 vendors strong, and created the SEBconnect app.
Under his leadership, Sawaya put policies in place that helped the Convention Center thrive throughout the uncertain times of the COVID-19 Pandemic, investing in the facility’s staff who continued to make improvements and upgrades to the Convention Center.
Sawaya also encouraged facility leadership to pursue certifications, like the Global Biorisk Advisory Council’s STAR Certification, which proved to be critical in getting the New Orleans tourism industry back on track. As a result of these bold initiatives, the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center emerged on the other side of one of the most threatening times in the New Orleans tourism industry as a premiere venue and industry leader.
Looking toward the future, Sawaya is at the helm of a $557 million Capital Improvement Plan that will transform the facility to exceed the expectations of current and future users and support the destination in being more competitive nationally. The massive, transformative project also includes laying the groundwork for construction of future developments, including new facilities like a headquarters hotel and mixed-use entertainment district that includes the construction of an exciting new residential neighborhood adjacent to the Convention Center.
“It is indeed a very distinctive honor to be named a Tourism Newsmaker in a city that is very well known for its unique take on expositions and events,” Sawaya said. “I sincerely appreciate the responsibility that I have to ensure that this great city and its convention center continues to be heralded as a leading-edge organization known for innovative delivery of exceptional event experiences in our world-class destination.”