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Downturn in state film production has adversely affected restaurants

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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

More than a dozen restaurants in New Orleans have closed since May, but restaurants across the state are feeling the squeeze.

The summer months are traditionally slow, and one restaurant owner says the downturn in the movie industry may be partly to blame for a recent closure.

The sign outside of Bywater's Cafe Henri' says it all: "Not  goodbye, but so long for now."

"I think it really started to hit home last summer," said owner Neal Bodenheimer. "He and his ownership group are considered food and beverage innovators. They  run the popular nightspots Cure and Cane and Table, but after 13 months he's had to close Cafe Henri.

"There were so many people who worked in film down there, and when they left it created a vacuum," said Bodenheimer.

Bodenheimer posted on Facebook that, "The loss of film business has been a major blow to restaurants and bars." He acknowledges other mistakes, but says the production slowdown, caused by limits on industry tax credits, was a factor.

"I think Bywater's been particularly sensitive," said Bodenheimer.

A recent study by economist Loren Scott shows just how dramatic the downturn has been. In 2013, the movie industry spent $1.1 billion in Louisiana. Since film production credits were reigned in two years ago, that number has dropped to $363 million - around a third of what was once spent here - and food and beverage outlets took a hit.

"The accommodations and food services areas, are non trivial. In the latest year, there was about $37 million in spending that took place in eating and drinking places that would not have been spent there if it weren't for the movie industry," said Scott.

Still sizable, but not what it was five years ago.

But in spite of the downturn, WWL radio food show host Tom Fitzmorris says the New Orleans restaurant industry is stronger than ever.

"Five years ago, it was 1,400 restaurants, and now we're at 1,800," Fitzmorris said.

Bodenheimer believes the state over-reacted when it set a $180 million limit on film tax credits, and he says an adjustment is needed.

"Whatever the decision was, it was a massive over-correction," said Bodenheimer.

For now, Bodenheimer is working to find jobs for those laid off at Cafe Henri.

"I've been able to absorb a few, but we have been unable to place most of them," said Bodenheimer.

And in spite of the downturn, his other two restaurants thrive, and he says he's not going anywhere.

"I'm a New Orleans guy. I'm going to stay in New Orleans," said Bodenheimer.

Though the money spent by the film industry in Louisiana is way down, it did improve slightly last year. According to Scott, in 2015 the state issued $268  million in credits in 2015. In 2016, that number jumped to $289 million.

But it's still nowhere near what it used to be.

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