|By Suzanne Marta, The Dallas Morning News
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
June 16, 2006 - --New Orleans -- Later this month, nearly 20,000 delegates of the American Library Association will arrive in New Orleans for the first citywide convention since Hurricane Katrina.
In the fiercely competitive meetings business, the event will mark a critical test of the city's ability to rebuild a mainstay of its economy.
"It's not a matter of choice -- they've got to get it right," said Steven Hacker, president of the Dallas-based International Association for Exhibition Management.
And if New Orleans should falter, other major U.S. cities, including Denver, could be poised to win a share of the Crescent City's convention bounty.
Since Hurricane Katrina, some cities have attempted to walk a delicate line between helping New Orleans out and poaching its business, offering their vacant convention centers and hotel rooms to displaced meetings and associations.
Much of the convention business that was supposed to go to New Orleans scattered across the country to cities including Las Vegas, Chicago, Denver and Orlando, Fla.
For the library convention, New Orleans tourism officials have invited meeting planners and journalists from around the country to see that the city is ready for business again.
It's a message that's been difficult to convey since images of the disaster from August are still so fresh and some sections of the city, including much of the lower Ninth Ward, remain uninhabitable.
Recent research showed that about 44 percent of people still think New Orleans has flooded streets, even though the water was pumped out within days of the giant storm.
"All the things that visitors came to New Orleans for are still here," said J. Stephen Perry, chief executive of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau. "The damage was to the outlying areas, not the French Quarter."
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