Who Else Has to Question the Convention Center Hotel Proposal to Finally Concede That it is Bad for the City?

Mayor LaToya Cantrell made clear her position on the proposal from local developers to build a luxury hotel connected to the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center with millions of dollars in subsidies and tax exemptions last year. The Mayor said New Orleans could not afford to forego revenue that is sorely needed to help its citizens and rebuild its infrastructure.

We agreed.

Now Orleans Parish Assessor Erroll Williams is flat-out saying he does not understand how the developers of the proposed hotel expect to be exempt from property taxes.

And again, we agree. In fact, Williams has reportedly said he does not understand why the wealthy developers would not “want to pay their fair share of taxes.”

Even the Bureau of Governmental Affairs says the proposal, as is, is a bad deal for the city and its citizenry.

Really, how many times and ways do these folk need to be told “NO” to stop with this madness already?

Unlike our assessor, we do, however, understand why the developers of the $557.5 million , 1200-room Omni convention center hotel don’t want to pay taxes. Erecting their luxury buildings and working out sweetheart deals on the backs of the working-class people who call New Orleans home is exactly how these wealthy real estate tycoons amassed their great fortunes. Expecting them to want to pay their fair share now is probably a lot like trying to give the 27-year-old adult child that just moved back into your house a curfew.

Still, we know how the saying goes: My house, my rules. Well, this house belongs to the people of this city. We party late in New Orleans, so you can come home way after midnight. But you got to pay your taxes.

Despite the concerns expressed by both the Mayor and the Assessor, it seems that leaders at the Convention Center along with the developers are still pushing to build the hotel and get the subsidies, credits and exemptions that will make the endeavor easy for them. Perhaps the Convention Center–with its millions in reserve–can afford to give tax payer money away to the Omni’s developers. But the city of New Orleans cannot, should not, and we truly hope, will not.

Still, Convention Center board members and officials, with their hearts so set on getting this hotel built, claim they don’t see how the project can go forward without the tax exemption.

Okay, then don’t go forward. For real, don’t build it. We have said it before and we will say it again. New Orleans does not need another hotel so desperately that it should not collect millions in property tax dollars so that the developers, who will make millions in profit, can increase their profit margin even more by not paying property taxes. 

What is even more bothersome about this whole deal is that the folk that claim this hotel is so badly needed and that it can’t be built without lucrative tax exemptions and subsidies are essentially leaders in the hospitality industry, which reaps the lion’s share of benefits from the city’s hotel-motel tax. It’s no secret that they have been pushing back on the idea of relinquishing a few more of those dollars to the city so that New Orleans can begin to make much needed infrastructure improvements. We hope that the committee that has been convened to work out some consensus on that matter comes up with solutions soon that are fair to all entities. But talk about wanting your bread pudding . . . with rum sauce . . . and eating it too.

You can’t be hard pressed to share hotel-motel tax money with the city in a more equitable manner on one hand and then want to push the city into giving up millions in property tax revenue on the other hand just because you want a hotel with a skywalk.

Speaking of wanting it all, it is not lost on us, here at The Tribune, that the developers of the proposed hotel are among those that stridently led the charge to push small-time, local property owners out of the short-term rental industry. How dare they ask for tax exemptions on a $557.5 million hotel development after fighting to keep working people from making a few extra dollars–money that helped them pay mortgages, taxes and live better quality lives–by renting their investment property on the short-term rental market. To allow the developers of this proposed hotel to build, open and operate it without paying its share of property taxes would reach unprecedented levels of impropriety and disrespect toward the people of New Orleans.

Why are we even talking about this any longer?

There is some hard working citizen struggling right now to pay their property taxes in this city. Somewhere across the city, there is a small business owner trying hard to keep up with his or her obligations–permits, fees for this, fees for that, and all sorts of taxes. And in a historically African-American, but quickly-gentrifying area of town, there are men and women about to lose a home that’s been in their families for generations because inflated, rising property values have priced them out of neighborhoods they help build. For those reasons alone, a wealthy developer like Joe Jaeger Jr. and his partners should feel compelled to not ask for any special favors from the city, especially one that involves not paying hundreds of millions of dollars in property taxes that they can afford and that the city needs.

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