Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Before Bayou Boogaloo,

A public meeting about riverfront planning will be held this Saturday morning at port headquarters. I believe that it's the last public meeting before the planning team presents its master plan; the slide show, I mean website, gives that impression.

Snark aside, I attended last Wednesday's meeting and left with a few questions and misgivings. In general, I'd like to see more opening-up of the riverfront and less development, but a four mile long linear park wouldn't pay for itself. An admittedly minor objection is that I like the riprap behind the Moonwalk. I was more concerned about the plans for the Poland Avenue Wharf (details). The architect giving the presentation said that they'd like to make the St. Claude Avenue bridge more pedestrian-friendly, but he also said that the plan was build three apartment or condominium towers near the site. He said that the amount of space created by the dismantling of the naval base would allow for an easing of height restrictions. That's probably true aesthetically, but I don't see how the traffic created by the addition of that many apartments or condos would allow for a more pedestrian-friendly bridge. The two hour meeting time was split between the riverfront planning team and NPN NOLA, so the question-and-answer session was too brief for me to ask.

Some of the more interesting questions/comments included one about whether it would be worse for the big new apartment complexes to sit empty or get filled up. That might sound cynical, but the traffic generation is certainly a legitimate concern for the residents of the affected neighborhoods. When somebody asked if this was the best way for a financially strapped city to be spending its money, Sean Cummings spoke up and said something about generating $40-50M a year in new revenue for the city. The city obviously needs money, but I do wonder to what extent maximum revenue enhancement is the prime consideration in the planning process.

He also said something about the mayor being committed to the project. During the part of the meeting devoted to neighborhood groups, there was a lot of talk about getting developers to build the housing that families want and need as opposed to the big projects that families don't want. I suspect that the mayor's commitment to big projects and the lack of housing are related. The large developers that NOBC deals with don't tend to be interested in single family housing, but NORA is charged with getting blighted property back on the market. I haven't fully formed my thoughts on the subject, but it does seem that NOBC gets the mayor's full backing and whatever it wants from the city council, but very little public attention. NORA, on the other hand, gets plenty of attention, but it can't afford the office staff to avoid the mistakes made by the city's safety and permits office.

It does seem that the mayor has more interest in large developments than getting real family housing on the market. I also have some questions about NOBC, but do want to be careful how I phrase them. Beyond that, has anybody even bothered to ask whether the sight of "cranes on the skyline" would really be a sign of recovery?

Hi -
I'm the one who asked if this was the best use of money right now. Cummings claimed economic development benefits of 40-50 million, but never said where these revenues would come from, or when we would see the benefits. He never said how much of an investment taxpayers would have to make to see these unnamed benefits. After all, City Park has never paid for itself... Armstrong Park is a wreck... why should this park be any different?

Offering parks and community centers is a way for developers to sell snake oil to citizens.
We'll have to pay for sewer, power and city services before we see a dime of benefit. And then we'll be stuck with high maintenance costs the City hasn't funded for. And the developers will have multi-year tax credits that the taxpayer will have to pick up the bill for.

I still say why here? Why now? Our infrastructure is broken... A solid set of City services will attract more economic benefits than high rises on the levees.

Who is really going to pocket those monies? Not you and me...
I like parks... but I agree with voodont for the most part.


"...has anybody even bothered to ask whether the sight of "cranes on the skyline" would really be a sign of recovery?"

I, for one, would definitely like to see more questioning along this line.

It's not the fact of "cranes" it's what they are building.. and for whom.
I don't think I expressed myself very well (I tend to be unfocused enough as it is, when I try to be calm and balanced I really lose focus), I'd like to see much more opening up of the riverfront and much less development of the riverfront. I think that all the talk of "opening up" the riverfront is part of a vague general plan that will give very specific variances to big developers. But even if you assume good faith on the part of all involved, I don't think that revenue maximization should be the primary goal of any redevelopment plan.

I'm not a big fan of everybody on the board of NORA -- Couhig sounds awfully anxious to bulldoze houses-- but I'm serious about not liking the fact that NORA gets ink, NOBC gets money and authority. They do have different roles -- NOBC is involved in big developments, NORA is involved in getting blghted housing back on the market. Which is more important? I haven't done enough research to post on it, but I wonder how much of Neighborhood 1's budget ($61M, I believe) could go to NORA. Of course, that would mean taking it from a city agency under the mayor's control and giving it to a semi-independent agency.
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