Mayor Cantrell asks Convention Center Board to defer on publicly funded hotel project

Cantrell asks Convention Center board to defer on hotel project
Updated: Aug. 14, 2018 at 5:42 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Mayor Latoya Cantrell is asking the Convention Center board to "defer all action" on a controversial plan to use hundreds of millions of public dollars to fund a new hotel.

The mayor's request comes just one month after the Bureau of Governmental Research issued a report calling  for more scrutiny of the 1,200 room project, which Convention Center leadership calls part of their mission.

For five years now, Convention Center officials have pushed for a new hotel to be built on an adjacent lot as a way to boost convention business. But now, as board discussion intensifies on a hotel that the BGR says will require $330 million in public contributions, Mayor Cantrell says hold on.

In a strongly worded letter issued to Convention Center board President Melvin Rodrigue, the mayor said she has "grave concerns about the amount of subsidy this project will receive."

The money would come from a huge Convention Center reserve account of over $220 million first documented in a FOX 8 Lee Zurik investigation two years ago.

The BGR report said the project could include a free land lease and up to 40 years in tax rebates. In spite of those concerns, the Convention Center's general manager appears to be moving forward, providing the board's finance committee today with an update on a project feasibility study.

"We do have some preliminary reports that there's a very positive effect on rate and occupancy," said General Manager Michael Sawaya, advising the board.

The board's president says he's more than willing to meet with the mayor to discuss the project, which he believes is worth the investment.

"Of course I responded to her letter on Friday, the following day...and told her we would love to do that and have every intention of trying to show her why we think this is a great project," said Rodrigue.

Once the feasibility study is completed, the Convention Center board is expected to take up discussions with Omni hotels, the company recommended to operate the hotel, by project developer Mathews Southwest.

But the mayor may have other ideas.

Mayor Cantrell  wrote in her letter,  "No amount of money will make the Convention Center or hotel viable if the roads and services needed to make the city run are in disrepair."

She says the Convention Center surplus is the people's money, and she says she wants to ensure that money is spent strategically.

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