Apr 102014
 

Allan Katz and Danae Columbus

The City’s announcement last week that after months of meetings, negotiations were still ongoing with Gatehouse Capital should prompt the New Orleans Building Corporation to re-open the bid process and invite new proposers.

This is especially true with several new Council and NOBC members coming on board in a few weeks and the change of NOBC leadership when Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant moves on to the Sewerage & Water Board.  With the multi-million dollar high-end outlet mall by the Howard Hughes Corporation set to open at the Riverwalk next month, the WTC development project would attract new bidders – possibly including the Hughes group. Hughes’ portfolio is very diverse and the WTC could be a good fit for them, especially if they do not choose to build condos or a hotel on top of the Riverwalk in a second phase.

Why haven’t negotiations been completed? Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant did not say, but it likely has something to do with money.  Gatehouse did not bring an absolutely committed lender to the table during the bid process, though Gatehouse’s Marty Collins spoke about various lenders who had financed their many other projects over the years. Perhaps Gatehouse is still waiting for a deep-pocketed lender to sign on the dotted line. Then there is the issue of upfront and annual payments to the City.  Gatehouse was not too generous in this area either.

(In full disclosure, we worked for one of the former WTC bidders who was not selected, but have not talked with the principals in many months.)

The WTC is one of the most attractive parcels available for development in New Orleans right now. We think the City should receive maximum value for it and for the City Hall site, whenever it becomes available.

But what is maximum value? How do City leaders lease long-term such a valuable piece of public property if they don’t know what it is worth?  The City does not have a current appraisal of the WTC site and therefore might well be leaving money on the table in their negotiations with Gatehouse. It’s true that there aren’t many comparables available for the WTC site — especially in New Orleans — but a savvy set of appraisers who also work in other big city markets could probably pinpoint a fairly accurate number.

If the City really wanted to maximize value, they could create a special taxing district at the site or levy a some sort of bed, drink, or entertainment tax that would be devoted to cover the extra police that would be needed to patrol the area.

The NOBC should follow the lead of the Industrial Development Board which recently rebid the Six Flags site.  Of course, those bids came back poorly because Six Flags is not an attractive location. On the other hand, the WTC site is extremely desirable and would certainly bring a strong field of fresh bidders with fresh ideas.

Regarding the Six Flags site, the City should underwrite a marketing study to determine what uses would be attractive to investors and what incentives the City would have to offer to bring in those investors. Perhaps Michael Hecht and GNO Inc could take the lead on such a study and professionally package the site for potential long-term uses.  If not, we’ll be looking at those same rotted structures for years to come.

DO POLITICIANS ONLY SELECTIVELY ABIDE BY THE TEN COMMANDMENTS?

This week’s revelation that newly elected Congressman Vance McAllister is kissing cousins with a married campaign aide is just typical of politicians who say one thing and do another. Maybe the Congressman should attend more Bible study classes and pay attention this time. But, here in Louisiana, chances are the public will forgive him before the next election.

McAllister was the underdog in the campaign and clearly not the favorite of Republican insiders. Although the Louisiana Republican Party and others are strongly calling for McAllister’s resignation, short of a recall led by the district’s voters, McAllister will get the chance to serve out his term.

EDWIN WASHINGTON EDWARDS RETURNS TO NEW ORLEANS TO GREET OLD FRIENDS AND NEW

There is no question that former governor and current congressional candidate Edwin Edwards was a big hit recently at Loyola’s Institute of Politics. Edwards will be back in New Orleans next Tuesday, April 15th, for an hour-long appearance on Angela Hill’s WWL Radio show at 3 p.m. and then he will be honored at a reception by a group of old friends (and new) at Desi Vega’s Steakhouse in the Lafayette Hotel at 5 p.m. If you didn’t get a chance to chat with Edwards at IOP, here’s your – and his- second chance. The 86-year-old new father is having the time of his life appearing before many appreciative crowds and is likely to make the runoff.

Allan Katz spent 25 years as a political reporter and columnist at The Times-Picayune, and is now editor of the Kenner Star and host of several televsion programs, including the Louisiana Newsmaker on Cox Cable. Danae Columbus is executive producer of Louisiana Newsmaker, and has had a 30-year career in public relations, including stints at City Hall and the Dock Board. They both currently work for the Orleans Parish School Board. Among the recent candidates who have been represented by their public relations firm are City council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.

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  • Profjim

    The city is a horrible landlord and property owner. These two should be advocating that the parcel be sold to the highest bidder, then let the market decide the best use for it. The delays have been caused by the city deciding to milk the developers THEY chose for more money in the city coffers and in their voters hands – by insisting on more “disadvantaged businesses” (I.e. well-connected with politicians) hands.