Lower Garden District gives cautious consideration to proposed adjacent “hospitality zone” downtown

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A proposal to place a swath of downtown New Orleans under a new appointed board with the power to levy taxes drew the attention of the Coliseum Square Association on Monday night, based on the possibility that the “hospitality zone” could easily be expanded into Uptown.

Several bills pending in the state legislature would create a new “hospitality zone” running generally from the Pontchartrain Expressway down to Elysian Fields Avenue between Claiborne Avenue and the Mississippi River. A group of leaders of the tourist industry would be appointed to govern the board, and they could levy additional taxes on hotels, restaurants and bars in the area to raise money for beautification projects, additional security, infrastructure repairs and marketing.

Meg Lousteau, a Treme resident and member of the Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates, briefed the Coliseum Square Association on the proposal at the association’s Monday night meeting. The boundaries of the district could be easily expanded, she said, and association president Robert Wolf noted that parts of the Lower Garden District such as the redeveloping riverfront might soon be considered attractive additions to it.

The general goals of the proposal are laudable, Lousteau said, but it has some problems. Currently, only two seats on the 17-member governing board are given to residents, she said. One bill would grant the new governing authority the power to levy property taxes as well, she said. Finally, there’s a strong possibility that the city will reduce the amount of services it provides in the “hospitality zone,” letting the new taxes pick up the slack — instead of increasing services as they were intended to do.

“We’d prefer we all have a lot more time to review this, because it’s creating a new government structure for the city,” Lousteau said, noting that the idea usurps some authority and responsibility from the City Council.

Lousteau’s characterization of the bill was challenged by association member John Boyd, who described it as an effort to allow the tourism industry to begin funding more of the basic services that the city’s most popular areas need. But both Lousteau and Boyd urged residents to attend a Tuesday morning meeting about the idea hosted by the French Quarter Management District.

After the meeting, Wolf said that the “devil is in the details” when it comes to the plan’s merits, especially if the zone could move up St. Charles Avenue. Ensuring that money is invested wisely in tourist areas is important, but the burden on downtown residents should be carefully considered, he said.

“That part of town needs special attention, but it needs to involve everyone that works and lives there,” Wolf said. “There has been no public discussion, and that makes me nervous.”

Other items discussed at Monday’s meeting include:

Coliseum Square dog park? | The board considered a question sent by NOPD Sixth District Commander Bob Bardy, who had pointed out that the city has been cracking down on unleashed dogs in public parks, and wondered if the association thought a similar effort was needed in Coliseum Square. The park is very popular for people to let their dogs run off their leashes, association members noted, but many were split as to whether police should make a special effort to enforce leash laws there. Ultimately, the association decided write Bardy with a general thank-you for the reminder about the leash laws and acknowledgement of his duty to enforce the city’s laws in the Sixth District.

Concrete batch plant | The board noted that the City Planning Commission had rejected a request for a new concrete batch plant on Tchoupitoulas, but that the project will likely be appealed to the city council. The council may see it as more an economic development opportunity, the board said, pledging to continue fighting the project for the negative effects it could bring to the neighborhood.

To read our live coverage of Monday’s meeting, click in the box below.

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