Monday, September 08, 2008

Loose Debris at the Tarmac

Wind high winds arrive while everyone is out of town...

The Airport Deal

Back in April, a group of unnamed business leaders, floated a proposal to sell off Louis Armstrong Airport to the state of Louisiana as part of a long-term effort to grow the airport as a regional hub and a short-term effort to fund critical recovery projects in Orleans Parish.

Maybe this makes sense on the surface. For one, New Orleans must begin to market itself as part of a large, economically crucial region called SE Louisiana. For two, New Orleans has a huge docket of infrastructure and social service emergencies that we really need to address. I mean selling off an important long-term source of revenue like the airport for a short-term fix is not something to do on impulse, Louis Armstrong is amongst the city's most important economic assets.

But the thing that helped me make up my mind was this charming list of social service and infrastructure emergencies for which the business leaders proposed spending the one time revenue:

Under the plan, bond dollars would be invested in five areas in New Orleans: a "sports and entertainment" district on the perimeter of the Superdome and New Orleans Arena; the government complex that is home to City Hall, Civil District Court and the shuttered State Building bordering Duncan Plaza that is slated for demolition; the medical district where a new Veterans Administration Hospital is planned; the theatre district surrounding the intersection of Canal Street and Loyola Avenue; and a six-mile stretch of downtown riverfront that city leaders hope to transform into park and new commercial space.

See? Everyone wins! Rich people get the hospital that they want, their sports and entertainment district, their theatre district, their riverfront development, and their brand new government complex. See? It's win-win-win-win-win.


Seeking to address concerns that only a small part of the city would benefit from the infusion of state money, business leaders recently agreed to consider including funding for a major development -- possibly a distribution center -- for eastern New Orleans.

See, now even those people win too! And that sure is a "major" development, this place for the poor can pick up processed dairy products and canned vegetables - I hear the building is going to be stylish yet understated, not to mention green.

(Even if you remember the deal when it was proposed, I really recommend rereading this article in full. The details are truly blood-boiling.)

But as with any big decision like this, it was more than appropriate for Mayor Nagin to express his reservations, even though he'd proposed selling the airport back in 2002:

In an email statement later in the day, Nagin was noncommittal about whether he supports the plan, describing it as "very preliminary, below expectations, and conceptual in nature."

At this point, Nagin said, any dollar figure associated with the airport is "designed for purposes of furthering discussions," adding that his "ultimate goal is a multi-billion dollar coordinated vision and plan for economic growth." He didn't cite a number that would satisfy him.

Good stuff, let's make sure New Orleans gets every penny. . .

. . . Four Weeks Later:

"Remember my phrase: Sell that sucker," Nagin said.

But the mayor offered one caveat: He doesn't support the legislation's proposed creation of a new agency with both mayoral and gubernatorial appointees to control the cash for city infrastructure. Instead, he wants the existing New Orleans Building Corp., which is comprised of the mayor, his appointees and City Council members, to handle the money.

So let's get this straight. Mayor Nagin's reservations had little to do with how much money the city was getting for what it was the city was spending money on. Mayor Nagin was not concerned that all of the projects proposed, save the token in the East, represent trickle-down developments that demand massive public investment for the direct benefit of wealthy private corporate interests. The minutia didn't bother him. What gave him pause was the fact that the New Orleans Building Corps, which he directly controls, wouldn't get final say over how the money is spent. Nagin wanted to ensure that Sean Cummings, who is President of the NOBC and a close Nagin ally and contributor, would have final say over whether or not to spend public money on the Reinventing the Crescent project, which Cummings himself also spearheads. Nagin wanted to ensure that his NOBC would be awarding the contracts for the Orleans Parish developments.

Well Nagin's courageous stand fell short and the Southeast Regional Airport Authority was born.

Here's a key paragraph:

Nagin controls the final two seats on the board. He gets to appoint one person directly and nominate three people for Jindal to consider for the other position. Nagin spokespeople Ceeon Quiett, James Ross and Leslie Eugene failed to produce information on these appointees, despite five inquiries over the course of 15 days.

Look at this deal! Look at it! This is how business gets done in New Orleans. Wealthy corporate leaders not-so-clandestinely get together and scheme up a way to force the public to pay for pet projects from which they themselves will profit and they leverage their inordinate amount of influence on the political process to garner support. You thought the rules governing NOAH were vague, the conflicts of interest in this deal are blatant.

Think about it:

This city is in pretty dire straights right now. We badly need wetlands and levees. We badly need schools and housing. We need public transportation and roads. This town barely passes the smell test for residency if you're looking to settle a family.

So instead we're going to spend our precious public money on a new sports entertainment district, a theater district, and a new city hall?

It's asinine and I'd like the Times-Picayune to say so. This deal is not in the public's interest. It's the only objective view to take.

1 comment:

Carmen said...

Those business leaders aren't unnamed; in fact, your first link leads to a link of the "major" players. I thought Dan Packer was on one of those lists, but I also think he's with the airport itself on some advisory capacity (or was) so perhaps that was viewed as a conflict of interest. Off the top of my head, forgive me if I err here.

I've been against this deal from the first time I read about it. Not only could the airport be made profitable for the City of New Orleans if run properly (by which I mean administratively, and with vision) but to outright sell instead of create 30-year leasing agreements at best seems very unwise.