Wrong Developers and A Bad Business Model
By Jeff Thomas
If our city is going to grow and prosper, then a commitment to the truth is required. In this age of fake news and the truth is not the truth, we must demarcate reality. And while our knowledge and experiences always grow and expand, our promise to keep it real must be constant.
BAD HOTEL DEAL
The proposed hotel at the Morial Convention Center in New Orleans will do more to increase crime and poverty in New Orleans over the next 99 years than all the drug deals on every corner combined in New Orleans during that same timespan. Instead of being an economic catalyst, as the board claims, the proposed hotel will only contribute to the gross disparities for which the city is infamous. This is the same old same old. The poor getting poorer.
RICH GETTING RICHER
Currently the Morial Convention Center is preparing to give nearly a billion of New Orleans’ tax dollars (an estimated $738.8 million) to local businessmen who will own and operate a hotel adjacent to the convention center. The money includes an upfront gift of $41 million from struggling African American citizens in NOLA, free use of the most expensive available land in the city (valued at $28.9 million), a property tax exemption and so many freebies, they eclipse the amount of welfare given to all poor people in our city during the same time. These guys are more like welfare kings parading around town as legitimate businessmen. Despite the claims of attorney Mike Sherman, generally legal analysts say such a deal is not allowed under current law. Give me a break!
Honestly, the entire process has been rigged from the start. From three-card Monte style lobbying of the developers to a self-absorbed and unconcerned about the citizens convention center board, this project is emblematic why New Orleans is crime infested and how the cycle of poverty is generational. Loud and boisterous civic activists were dismissed as a side show, in an attempt to discredit the truthfulness of their claims. Meanwhile the board is giving away their money while proclaiming some public good in the process.
PEOPLE AIN’T STUPID
The proposed hotel developer, Joe Jaeger, recently led a procession of voices- including Think504- killing the Harrah’s Casino which wanted to use private money to upgrade their facility at the foot of Canal St. Casting himself as a protector of public money and good government, Jaeger’s role in killing one project while hiding his role as the developer of a competing project proves at least hypocrisy. But the old school greed and attempt to transfer public funds to private wealth without regard to the citizens of our city is not only sleazy back room dealing but the main reason black folks can’t get ahead.
Transferring public tax money to private citizens via government contracts is the best government can do to create opportunities for locals to prosper. In NOLA, public dollars have flowed into the coffers of connected white business people who have enriched themselves and their families. If I started naming names, it would be a who’s who list of prominent New Orleanians. New Orleans is 65% African American, but African Americans receive less than 5% of major contracts in this city. And this lack of access to capital and contracts creates poverty which is the number one cause of crime. Being intentional about spending public money will have direct consequences. In NOLA, we have been intentional about limiting African Americans access to contracts thereby creating and promoting black poverty. Again the leading contributor to crime is poverty.
At the last board meeting of the Morial Convention Center, a group of motivated, informed and dedicated activists spoke loudly and clearly about their reaction to the proposed hotel. Speakers labeled the cash giveaway as graft and corruption. In a time in our city and state, when we understand the problems of mass incarceration, are attempting to repeal non unanimous juries, and are opening jailhouse doors and freeing men, a project like this is a regressive form of the past oppressive, privileged approach that has resulted in so much crime in our city and state.
FAKE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
The convention center paid a consultant who, wait for it, supports their claims that the hotel will be a good thing. They claim a $280 million economic impact. Whatever that means. More trickle down? Ha! Usually that economic impact misses my street, and the streets I traverse frequently. But make no mistake. The money they want to put in their pockets is real cash. Real cash that is generated 100% by citizens of New Orleans. Your money. Your next-door neighbors too. Shucks, they get the whole neighborhood’s money. Every neighborhood’s money!
Giving so much to developers who have a history of only employing African Americans in menial jobs at minimum wage and claiming some $290 million economic impact makes the BS meter spin real fast. But worse is the fact that not investing the same into meaningful projects across the city that can create real jobs for more thousands of people is criminal. This is public money that should be used for public good. The current developers have been in business in New Orleans for decades yet have made no difference in the quality of life of our citizens. Crime is constant under their watch! It is up to us. Especially people like Joe Jeager and Darryl Berger to help reduce crime.
Instead, they seek to exploit the poor people of New Orleans while further enriching themselves using money contributed by us. They should be able to finance this project themselves or better yet, the convention center board should find some local developers who have a track record of improving our city with high paying good jobs.