May 112017
 
Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

Industrial Development Board Chair Alan H. Philipson is no push-over. After completing a successful career in manufacturing, Philipson became a full-time volunteer and currently also serves as Chairman of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, First Vice President of the Louisiana SPCA, and Secretary of Lambeth House. He also works with Bricolage Academy, was honored by Family Services and named 2016 Activist of the Year by St. Charles Avenue.

Armed with the proper resources and consultants, Philipson is quite capable of directing a fair and impartial selection process to identify a well-qualified developer for the former Six Flags site. Instead of providing Philipson with the tools he needed, Landrieu has decided to run the process himself – a la the World Trade Center – and will get one last shot to give a major piece of New Orleans real estate to his hand-selected cronies.

This move came about because Philipson and the IDB board were uncertain that any of the three developers who submitted the most recent bids actually had the resources they alleged. Similar to the WTC process where bidders had to prove the financial worthiness, the IDB board could have required a large refundable “deposit” and a bank letter of credit certifying the remaining funds needed were available.

The prospective developers currently at the table — including mayoral candidate Frank Scurlock, Tonya Pope and Danny Rogers — should be given the opportunity to “show their money” before the process begins again. They have already made considerable investments just in preparing their presentations. It’s not fair to cast them aside without complete vetting.

The Six Flags site has been an eyesore to Mayor Mitch Landrieu his entire administration. Its languishing condition has caused great anguish among New Orleans East residents. Getting the site back into commerce — beyond its occasional use as a movie set — would send a strong signal that New Orleans East is open for development once again.

Although the Landrieu team has never been fast to move through the RFP process on major projects, there’s no doubt a new developer will be in place before May 1, 2018 when our next mayor takes office.

STATE REP. HILFERTY, DEPUTY MAYOR BERNI WEIGH IN ON MORIAL CONVENTION CENTER TAX GRAB

Both State Representative Stephanie Hilferty and Deputy Mayor Ryan Berni commented on last week’s story about House Bills 622 and 623 which will re-direct tax dollars collected by the Morial Convention Center for tourism enhancement to rebuild New Orleans’ street infrastructure. Their comments were less about the merits of the legislation and more to insist that Mayor Landrieu was not behind it.

“We have nothing to do with Rep. Hilferty’s bill,” said Berni in an email.

Although Berni attended the committee meeting where HB 623 creating the New Orleans Street Maintenance District was on the agenda, Berni said he was there to monitor the controversial legislation to protect military monuments. Berni also declined to respond when asked if Landrieu supported, was neutral, or opposed Hilferty’s bill.

Hilferty herself claims she has never discussed the legislation with Landrieu.

“I did not work with Mayor Landrieuu on this legislation,” Hilferty explained.

She says city officials were included as members of the Maintenance District to help prioritize how the tax dollars would be spent. It is hard to believe no talks took place regarding a piece of legislation that would bring $16 million to the city annually and lock down a mechanism to distribute those funds. Either way, it is clear that Hilferty and Landrieu do not want to be associated with each other on this piece of legislation.

Hilferty, 32, is just the kind of legislator New Orleans needs – a young, smart, aggressive woman who is looking out for her constituents needs. In just two years she has already proven to be an asset to the Orleans and Jefferson delegations.

Unfortunately on this well-intended but poorly-thought-out legislation Hilferty chose to strip funds from New Orleans’ largest industry, whose jobs do more to keep New Orleanians working and neighborhoods safer than any street maintenance project ever will.

The tourism industry supports 18,800 jobs annually and has had a $12 billion economic impact to area residence since 1985. The Morial Convention Center hosts more than 1 million visitors annually and produces $170 million in taxes for city and state government each year. The Center is in the planning stages of a $1.5 billion economic development project just upriver from its current site that will create a new hotel, restaurants, entertainment facilities and shops. In addition to generating new jobs and taxes, this project will spur additional development along the riverfront corridor toward Jackson Avenue.

In a new report released this week, the Bureau of Governmental Research has put forth a number of recommendations that could help leverage the $1.5 billion FEMA is providing to rebuild streets damaged by Hurricane Katrina. With these funds New Orleans has “a critical opportunity to shift to a more effective approach to maintaining the City’s streets,” the report explains.

Among BGR’s suggestions is a new Transportation Utility Fee which is already on the book in three dozen municipalities around the country. A road user tax, the TUF could be collected via monthly utility bills. Surely the City Council and our next mayor will focus on this long-term funding need.

BAGNERIS ANNOUNCEMENT SET FOR TONIGHT; OTHERS HOLDING FUNDRAISERS

There will be no break this summer from politics. Former Judge Michael Bagneris will announce his candidacy for mayor tonight at Dooky Chase restaurant. First City Court Judge Monique Barial has a debt retirement cocktail party tonight at Desi Vega’s. City Councilmember Nadine Ramsey has lined up almost one hundred hosts for her fundraiser also this evening at Basin Street Station. Politics with a Punch celebrates its anniversary tonight at the Eiffel Tower, with Advocate owner John Georges among the guests.

Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and work for City Council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, Foster Campbell, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. Her current clients include judicial candidates Suzanne Montero and Paula Brown.

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