It’s a question that Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler needs to answer.
With much fanfare and hoopla, Tyler announced in September 2016 that her administration had landed a big fish in the terms of economic development for the Shreveport river front--an aquarium for the Barnwell.
Planet Aqua Group (PAG), a newly formed company with no (repeat NO) prior business experience in building or operating an aquarium, was the new tenant for the deserted Barnwell Center.
PAG signed a lease with the City of Shreveport in December 2016. The lease, which is for $100 a month, expires at the end of 2031. The lease requires PAG to spend a minimum of $2.5 million for construction of the aquarium. PAG is also required to pay the utilities and pay for all building maintenance.
The city provided $1.5 million dollars from a 2011 bond issue to pay for basic improvements to the Barnwell.
Construction began in January 2017. The planned opening date was September 2 with thirty-two new hires.
In August 2017 Sci-Port announced it would close on Labor Day. Seventy-two employees lost their jobs.
Many of the Sci-Port crowd were hired by PAG. They left Sci-Port hoping to just walk down the street and not miss a paycheck.
And some of the other PAG hires quit other jobs to start work at the aquarium.
The aquarium did not open until November 1. Those expecting to be on the PAG payroll on September 2 were left in the lurch.
The aquarium announced 55,000 plus visitors in November and December . If all were children ($8 per admittance), gross revenues for those two months should have exceeded $440,000.
Liens totaling more than $300,000 have been filed for unpaid construction costs and expenses for the aquarium. (Most of these companies are local.)
The aquarium is still open, generating ticket revenues.
PAG is a for-profit company. Thus the Louisiana Public Records Act does not apply. PAG has refused to release detailed information on its operations, revenues, plans for paying bills, etc.
Paragraph 19 of the lease requires PAG to “keep the Leased Premises free from all levees, liens, attachments, encumbrances or claims.” PAG is required to either discharge the lien or affirm its release by posting an appropriate bond.
To date, the liens have not been fully paid. Additionally, the liens have not been discharged or bonded off.
It’s time, no actually past time, for the Tyler administration to enforce the lease with the aquarium. The city should force PAG to discharge or bond off the liens.
In the alternative, the city should cancel the lease. Additionally, PAG should be required to give a full and public accounting to the Mayor and Council in a public hearing.
The sad plight of the aquarium, as well as the closed Sci-Port which occupies a city owned building, will be campaign issues in the upcoming Mayor and Council elections this year.
Feel free to share all or part of this column with others and to post to Facebook. No requirement to list my name.