IF you believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy all rolled into one big package, then you can easily buy into the Wednesday’s presentation by the new Cross Bayou developers to the City Council Committee—hook, line and sinker.
The Gateway Development Consortium (GDC) composed of Paul Pratt, Theron Jackson and Curtis Joseph, have proposed a $1 billion development of Cross Bayou. On the drawing board is a municipal complex for 1000 to 2000 people, a 350 employee technology-based school, a 5000 unit, mixed-used housing project, and hard banking of Cross Bayou from Common Street to the Red River. Although the initial announcements of the development included a sports complex, the presentation and materials submitted to the Council committee did not include this feature.
The developers stated that almost $200,000 had been spent by them to date on the project. They explained that this was a 10 year project that would “only” require investment of $100 million of public and private money each year. A public-private partnership with the City is the vehicle to get them, and the City, to the promised pot of gold at the end of their rainbow.
They explained that the next necessary step in the process is having the Mayor, the Council, the business community and Shreveport citizens to “buy into” their proposal. And that Tyler, with Council approval, must sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which outlines the scope of the development and the responsibilities of GDC and the City.
It was emphasized repeatedly that the MOU is a non-binging agreement reflecting the City’s interest in exploring the proposed project further. The MOU does not bind the City legally or financially. Further down the development path, a formalized contract with the City will be needed. A spokesperson said the MOU was “an engagement, not a marriage” that could be broken off any time by either GDC or the City.
The MOU will then be taken to Governor John Bel Edwards in hopes of getting a commitment that he will move state employees to the municipal complex. Presumably the complex is to be paid for by the state or in the alterative leased. The developers said that the municipal complex is the critical component to make the deal work. Seemingly that will be big big mountain to climb, since John Bel has predicted a $700 million budget shortfall as the Louisiana legislature struggles (again) with the so-called financial cliff.
Many questions have been asked, and rightly so, on just about everything in the development proposal. These include the qualifications of the GDC members who have very limited business experience, no (repeat NO) development track record, and evidently no skin (as in money) in the game.
And after this just minor issues like the feasibility of the municipal complex, or the reality of a massive technology school bubble up. The notion of filling up 5000 housing units, which would be 10,000 or more residents in a city with a population of about 200,000, is also questioned.
As with all developers, the Cross Bayou group wants quick action—this time to go to Baton Rouge. On the Cross Bayou “go round” last fall, the driving immediacy was to compete with St. Petersburg, Florida for the New Orleans Pelican G-League basketball team with a new sports arena. (By the way, that city has not completed the deal with Pelicans because
of the lack of agreement on expenditure of major funds to improve 1 of 2 potential sites.)
Its highly unlikely that Governor Edwards can do anything in the way of a commitment from the state until the current legislative session is concluded in June. Thus there is no real need to rush the MOU decision.
The bigger question for the Council and the Mayor is why approve this project over the last one that failed on a 6-0 Council vote. It’s a bigger deal with different players and it will require public funding in a yet to be specified amount. There is no doubt that it will be a sum exponentially exceeding the $30 million Tyler wanted to build the sports complex.
From the perspective of the local politics, GDC has big hurdle to clear to get any of the 4 council members who are up for re-election this fall to agree to this project. The same can be said for Tyler who intends to seek a second term this year.
Three of the seven Council members to be elected this year will be new; Council members Jeff Everson, Oliver Jenkins and Michael Corbin are termed out. The mayor’s office could be filled by someone other than Tyler. Going down the MOU trail at this time will not only be a millstone around the necks of Tyler and Council member seeking re-election, but also a potential albatross that the next mayor and council must contend with.
When it really gets down to brass tacks, the City should go in one of two directions. The first is to put the long held dream of a financial oasis on Cross Bayou on the back burner, or better yet, just take it off the stove and put on the top shelf or in a closet. The other is to develop a comprehensive Request for Proposal for the best project for Shreveport and distribute it nation wide after the elections this year.
Will the proposed development result in a Yellow Brick road lined with tax money for the city or a dusty dead end trail that has cost time and money to travel? Many believe that this is the wrong project, the wrong players, and the wrong time to consider this project. Period, end of verse.