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Monday, April 9, 2018

Is It An Option?


Starting over on development of Cross Bayou

If you had a magic genie in your pocket, a great wish would be to erase the board on the new proposed Cross Bayou project and start completely over.

But alas, this is probably not an option at this point.

Mayor Tyler’s proposed Cross Bayou sports complex development met a resounding 6-0 defeat by the City Council last fall. The push at that time was a deadline by Saints owner Tom Benson to make a commitment to build a new sport complex for the Pelicans’ G-League basketball team.

Now, some six months later, a new Cross Bayou project is being proposed. Known as Cross Bayou Point (CBP), the new proposal is for a $1 billion public-private partnership that includes a Santa Claus list of features. Basically, everything but a gold-plated kitchen sink.

The announced plans include 5,000 units of single- and multi-family housing units, a charter school with 350 employees, a 3,500-seat sports arena for the New Orleans Pelicans G-League team, and a municipal government complex for 1,000 to 2,000 employees. And, of course, retail and other amenities.

The plans include the acquisition of virtually all of the property on Cross Bayou from the Common Street Bridge to the Red River.

The city and the parish both own small tracts along the bayou. The remainder is privately held. Much like the acquisition of the property necessary for the downtown Hilton and Convention Center, expropriation will be necessary to assemble all the property included with the CBP’s proposed footprint.

The local development team of Paul Pratt, Theron Jackson and Curtis Joseph have formed Gateway Development Consortium (GDC). To further the project, GDC says that it needs a “Non-Binding Memorandum of Understanding “ (MOU) from the city of Shreveport.

In an effort to pressure the city, GDC has reached out to both the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce and the Shreveport Downtown Development Authority (DDA) for support.

The Chamber has issued a letter encouraging Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler to execute the MOU. Chamber President Tim Magner says that this would help move the development process along. He cautions, however, that the Chamber has not issued a blanket endorsement of the GDC plan.

So far, the DDA Board has not jumped on the Cross Bayou Pointe bandwagon. Just as they did when pushed to endorse Tyler’s sports complex, the DDA wants more information. Specifically, how will this project tie into existing and future development in the downtown DDA boundaries?

The requested memorandum is stated to be non-binding and contingent upon further negotiation and, ultimately, Council approval. The potential list of publicly funded improvements is substantial. It includes assistance in “assembling” the necessary privately owned land, donating and/or leasing city-owned land, and building infrastructure for streets, drainage, parks and parking lots.

The agreement contemplates that the city will issue bonds and obtain federal grants, in amounts yet to be determined, to finance the proposed housing units, infrastructure improvements, land acquisition and environmental remediation.

The Red River Waterway Commission will be asked to provide the necessary regulatory approval for development along the Cross Bayou banks as well as bank hardening.

Ostensibly, Tyler has the authority on her own to execute the MOU. It is doubtful that she will do so for several reasons.

Initially, the April 28 tax vote is looming, and many citizens are skeptical of voting for what, in effect, will be new taxes since these rolled off the tax rolls at the end of last year. The idea of more big government debt would certainly further encourage what is believed to be a growing voter “No vote” citizenry.

Additionally, Tyler must weigh the impact of an MOU decision on her re-election plans for this fall. Since the hiring of bond counsel will require approval by the Shreveport City Council, expect Tyler to try to dump the decision on the Council.

In the perfect world, the city would have issued a comprehensive nationwide Request for Proposal (RFP) after the sports complex defeat and before the Gateway project was initiated. Such an RFP could have been developed in conjunction with the Chamber, the DDA, the Council and the administration. If this had occurred, the city would be dealing from a position of strength in the sense of having projects submitted within the confines of the city’s anticipated involvement.

Like a beached whale, it is getting harder and harder for Tyler and other elected officials to ignore the GDC’s Cross Bayou proposal. Although development of Cross Bayou has been discussed (and cussed) for decades, the latest proposal is deemed by most observers to be the wrong project, at the wrong time and probably by the wrong developers.

One can expect much more public discussion of the requested MOU. Unfortunately, it may become tainted by racial allegations because the GDC partners and the development team are African- American. To say the least, this is last thing Shreveport needs, although this is a reality in a city that is in the middle of a transition to a majority black population.

John E. Settle Jr. has been a resident of Shreveport since January 1977. His articles appear regularly in local publications. He can be reached at 742-5513 or e-mail to: John@jesettle.com.


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