A common practice amongst subordinates is to intentionally include extraneous steps in a plan to give a meddling boss something to change. This way, the plan remains exactly the same, but the boss feels as though he’s made a contribution and the subordinate can point out that he compromised. It goes like this:
PEON: Here’s what my plan is: We’ll design the product, build a prototype, dispose of toxic waste in the executive washroom, and then launch the product.
BOSS: Whoa! That third step is a problem. I don’t think we should dispose of toxic waste in the executive washroom. That could harm our corporate executives.
PEON: Hmmm… I’m still not sure about abandoning Step 3, but I see what you’re saying and value your guidance. I’ll scrap Step 3.
BOSS: Great! Let’s move forward.
It was this kind of scenario that comes to mind when the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center makes its pitch to expand its facilities into the Lower Garden District as part of a public/private partnership.
I understand why the convention center is expanding; New Orleans is a major destination for conventions, and the Convention Center has lost ground with other cities in terms of raw square footage. Right now, it’s tied for sixth with the Kentucky Exposition Center, lagging behind heavy-hitters Las Vegas, Chicago, Atlanta and Orange County.
Likewise, this is the perfect window for expansion. Mardi Gras World reopened a few years ago on the west side of the Convention Center, and the Market Street Power Plant has not been utilized. Between, there’s plenty of open space that is ripe for development.
However, nobody wants to start handing out blank checks, and the Convention Center’s plans include a couple of… well… curious projects.
First of all, officials are asking to close part of Convention Center Boulevard. The scheme would involve turning a portion of Convention Center Boulevard into a linear park with a people mover for transporting conventioneers. Neighboring streets would also be reworked.
Naturally, this is a terrible idea. Convention Center Boulevard is a major thoroughfare; its loss could not be ameliorated merely by tweaking parallel streets. The addition of a people mover is even more ridiculous. The Riverfront Streetcar was primarily installed to service the Convention Center – riders can’t even access the streetcar except via the convention center for a substantial portion of its run. A people mover would simply be redundant.
Worse, a people mover would invite comparison to the notorious Detroit People Mover, described by Business Insider as “a unique light rail system in downtown Detroit that hardly anyone uses.”
Secondly, officials are considering – and I’m quite serious about this – a “mega-yacht harbor.” A public/private venture should not be envisioning an amenity that could only serve the most wealthy persons. While I’m sure there are some conventioneers who desperately need a berth for their obscenely-sized yachts, I don’t want taxpayer dollars anywhere near the damn thing.
Accordingly, if I didn’t know any better, I would suspect that the Convention Center is intentionally overplaying its hand as a convenient distraction to ensure that its primary expansion plans sail through. The public gets to feel as if a potentially grandiose project was restrained, while the Convention Center gets the expansion that it wanted all along.
Of course, I could be wrong about this. The simplest explanation is that officials are simply letting their imaginations run wild with planning, as they are wont to do. Simple explanations are usually true.
Still, I would prefer to imagine that on some internal memorandum, buried deep in the filing cabinet of some functionary, the following colloquy is posited:
CONVENTION CENTER: Here’s the plan: We expand the convention center, return land to commerce, and preserve the Market Street Power Plant. We’ll also raze Convention Center Boulevard and construct a people mover and a mega-yacht harbor.
NEW ORLEANS: What?! I was with you until you started talking about destroying Convention Center Boulevard and building a people mover and a harbor for gigantic yachts!
CONVENTION CENTER: Ok, ok. I really want to destroy a major boulevard, and I’m also really bullish on people movers and huge boats for rich people, but I understand that this going to be a compromise. I guess I can nix those parts of the plan.
NEW ORLEANS: All right then, let’s build this thing!
Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.