Fair Share is the Righteous Fight that Should Not Have to Be Fought
Fighting for the city of New Orleans to get its fair share in hospitality industry revenue through every available means –including legislative action—is not a ploy or a power play, as some have suggested.
It is an obvious and necessary move in Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s arsenal of efforts to get our city the revenue it needs to address a dangerously aging infrastructure.
Just last week, New Orleans nearly came to a screeching halt as meteorologists forecast bad weather, torrential rain and a chance of flash flooding. Seriously, City Hall shut down early and so did many schools. Some employers let workers go early for the day and shut down their businesses in the fear that if it rained too long, the streets would become impossible to navigate.
We can’t keep living this way.
There’s a lot being said right now about failed negotiations and offers from the tourism industry that Mayor Cantrell turned down. As we understand it, the offer was for less money than she believes is needed and came with caveats and conditions that the Mayor does not believe are fair to the people of the city.
The Mayor is asking for a one-time payment of $75 million and $40 million in recurring funding. The industry has countered with $55 million one time and $25 million in recurring funds. While that counter offer might seem fair enough on its face, there is more to it.
According to media reports, tourism leaders also want combine the public New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp. with the private New Orleans & Co. The merger would raise the amount New Orleans & Co. receives from some hotel fees. That may not be a bad prospect, but the idea reportedly gives the Mayor pause because with the increased revenue, she would want the city to have more oversight as to how New Orleans & Co. spends the millions, according to media reports.
Well, why not? If we are going to negotiate, then let’s NEGOTIATE.
City officials have reportedly also said that the deal offered by the tourism leaders would also end the agreement between tourism groups and the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority to allow the RTA to recoup about $8 million it has been sending to those groups. But why should RTA have to give up a dime in order for this to happen. The money that RTA is recouping was money meant for it in the first place—at least that is what voters were led to believe when they approved it.
By the end of the day Tuesday (April 23), the bills aimed at helping New Orleans get its fair share of revenue generated by one of the most lucrative industries in the city made it out of committee. We’re cautiously optimistic about that. We continue to hear that the Mayor is facing an uphill battle and it will be difficult to get the two-thirds majority vote of the Legislature needed to pass the bills.
Luckily, Mayor LaToya Cantrell doesn’t come off as someone who gives up easily. And she shouldn’t!
New Orleans is no poor, parentless Oliver Twist, lifting its bare bowl, begging, “Please sir, I want some more.”
This city is rich, and its people and their culture are precisely why there is a lucrative tourism industry to begin with. The city of New Orleans is not the tourism industry’s orphaned child. It is tourism’s mother!
The people that call New Orleans home gave birth to every thing that makes this city what it is. Or have we forgotten that pesky fact? It is about time New Orleans boldly expects that more of the money generated here—money that comes from the roughly 18 million visitors annually that use our streets and our water and drainage system—goes to improving and maintaining New Orleans for residents.
Mayor Cantrell has made it clear that she is not just looking to the tourism industry to meet the need alone. She will also turn to voters of the city to do their fair share as well. We will support that effort as well.
Why state legislators would not want to jump at the opportunity to help secure needed revenue for the city of New Orleans to address its needs is beyond us. And we are over discussions about how we got here. We’re here. This problem isn’t going away. This is an opportunity to fix it.
Why Does it Have to Be a Fight?
Undoubtedly, leaders in the local tourism industry will fight. We hope our Mayor and the legislative delegation working on behalf of the people of the city will fight harder.
Don’t mistake us for anti-tourism folk. We understand and respect the importance of the tourism industry. In fact, one of our publications is specifically targeted to tourists. We have built partnerships with organizations in the industry. And while we can appreciate concerns about having the revenue needed to market and promote the city and to maintain and expand the landmark spaces and places that attract frequent visitors, we also know—all to well—that in a flooded New Orleans, the convention center and the Superdome may not good for much more than shelters of last resort.
We can even understand the natural reservation and hesitation that must come with being asked to give up something that you have grown accustomed to having all to yourself for long time. But our infrastructure is aging. Our city and its people are hurting. Unless there is some grand plan to pick up the Crescent City and move it somewhere else, tourism in New Orleans will eventually feel the strain as well.
We noticed earlier this week that much attention was paid to Esplanade Avenue. The homeless encampment near the corner of Esplanade and Claiborne was cleared out. The green spaces along the thoroughfare, a much-used path for walkers and bikers as they trek from the French Quarter to the Fairgrounds, were manicured. Workers trudged down the street block after block, pushing trash bins on wheels, picking up litter just in time for the arrival of Jazz Fest.
And that was a good thing. But behind the beautiful cityscapes, beyond the historic tree-lined streets, beneath the revelry and the rolling good times, is a 300-year-old city with an infrastructure almost as old and in need of a major overhaul.
For some reason, the Mayor’s request is being played out as this us-versus-them state of affairs. Instead, we should all be in this together with the understanding that if it is good for the city, then it’s good for tourism.
We have said it before, and it’s worth repeating: New Orleans can never really be a world-class place to visit until it is a world-class place to live.