New Orleans loses heart convention

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 25, 2009

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The American Heart Association has canceled plans to hold its 2012 scientific sessions conference in New Orleans, tourism officials said.

The group, which brought 26,000 attendees to a New Orleans session in November 2008, has ‘‘decided to expand the rotation of current cities to include a broader variety of venues for our attendees,’’ vice president Leigh Ann Stockard wrote this week in a brief letter to the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau.

‘‘We were very disappointed,’’ visitors bureau president Stephen Perry said. ‘‘American Heart is very important because it has been one of our oldest customers and it is one of the major meetings in the country.’’

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The city is still on the association’s books for the 2016 scientific conference. A stroke meeting, expected to attract about 5,000 attendees, is still planned in New Orleans in 2012.

The association meets in New Orleans once every four years, and also meetings in Orlando, Fla., Chicago and Dallas.

The Heart Association has not decided what city will replace New Orleans in 2012.

Perry said the cancellation reflects increased competition between cities for major events.

Maggie Francis, spokeswoman for the association, said the group considers air service for domestic and international flights, meeting space, ground transportation, medical response times and police presence when evaluating cities. The group only holds meetings in smoke-free cities.

She would not say which, if any, of those factored in the decision to move the New Orleans meeting.

‘‘In the meetings between us and their executives, they told us that there was nothing we could do or offer,’’ Perry said.

New Orleans’ biggest challenges moving forward, he said, will be refurbishment of the French Quarter and crime. ‘‘Public safety is going to be the single most important issue in the next mayor’s race and the council race,’’ Perry said. ‘‘They didn’t tell us (it was an issue). But I know that public safety is a question that arises with everyone that travels to a big city and I think right now our reputation may not be as good as some other cities.’’

Information from: The Times-Picayune,