New Orleans councilman seeks additional funding for Bayou Phoenix project, raising concerns of conflict of interest

Published: May. 16, 2023 at 5:08 PM CDT|Updated: May. 16, 2023 at 11:31 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - New Orleans City Councilman Oliver Thomas sent a letter to Mayor LaToya Cantrell requesting $10 million to $15 million in additional city funding for what he calls “one of the most important projects in our region” -- the Bayou Phoenix project.

The initiative aims to transform the abandoned Six Flags site in New Orleans East into a resort-like hub for youth and their families. While the city has already allocated $1 million to the project, Thomas said additional funding is necessary, sparking questions among other council members who told Fox 8 they were unaware of the funding request and its intended purpose.

Developer Troy Henry counters, “Councilman Thomas has been very involved in making sure this project is a reality, which is what we’re endeavoring to do as well. So other city councilmen that don’t understand and don’t know have never asked.”

Henry said the additional millions are needed to analyze and restore necessary infrastructure at the abandoned amusement park site.

“The first thing that has to happen with those dollars is the site has severe infrastructure issues associated with it,” Henry said. “OK, pumps -- the pump that drains and de-waters it so you can do all the environmental analysis -- every part of the guts of the pump was stolen.”

Henry says the millions needed for this work and for an infrastructure analysis of the site won’t go to his company, but to another that would perform the work. He says that company hasn’t yet been selected.

Thomas, in a phone interview with Fox 8, explained that the Bayou Phoenix project is a public-private partnership that requires more funding to address property mitigation.

“The least we can do is make sure that site is prepared for investment,” Thomas said. “One of the things that’s going to be important is making sure the site is taken care of for investment. So even if Bayou Phoenix goes away, we need to maintain that site to make sure it is investable, not leave it like it’s been now. It’s a prime piece of property.”

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Henry says he met with Mayor Cantrell at the beginning of this process and laid out exactly how much money would be needed to redevelop the site. He claims none of this should come as a surprise. But some other City Council members say they’re just learning about the additional money needed.

Another layer to this is Thomas and Henry’s relationship. Thomas tells us they grew up together.

We asked Henry if he and Thomas are related in any way.

“It would probably be like he’d be my 12th cousin or something like that, if that’s a cousin,” Henry said. “Me and you are probably closer related than he is.”

But Henry also is one of Thomas’ bosses. Thomas works for Media Staffing LLC. Henry is one of the owners of that LLC. It provides talent to radio station WBOK, where Thomas is a part-time radio host.

Dillard University political analyst Dr. Robert Collins says this all gives the appearance of a conflict of interest.

“Now he’s basically asking for a political favor basically for his part-time employer,” Collins said of Thomas.

Thomas and Henry disagree, saying they’re just trying to do something positive for New Orleans East.

A city spokesperson issued a statement Tuesday that said, “The redevelopment and revitalization of New Orleans East, especially in regards to the former Six Flags site, remains a top priority for the Cantrell administration. The mayor, like Councilmember Thomas, shares an unwavering commitment to developing this property, understanding it will usher in a new generation of economic development and job creation.

“However, as much as all parties want to see this project move forward, it is premature to make public sector financial commitments at this time.”

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