New Orleans City Council members urged a city public-benefit corporation to work harder to get more local and minority workers hired on city developments on Wednesday, a few weeks after the council approved Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s highly publicized local hiring plan.
The urging came during the Canal Street Development Corp.’s budget presentation to the council. It was sparked by talk of plans to redevelop two parking lots next to the Piazza d’Italia monument on Poydras Street. The city hopes to award a lease for the project by the first quarter of 2016.
The CSDC is tasked with developing and leasing city-owned property in the Central Business District, including around the monument.
Councilman Jason Williams questioned whether the Canal Street Development Corp. had given local and minority companies enough time to respond to its requests for qualifications and proposals for redeveloping the piazza lots.
The city issued a request for qualifications in May, with a submission deadline of June 30. A selection committee then narrowed a list of five respondents to three — ICD Sitra, Chrysolite Management Group LLC and the joint venture of Carter, Majestic Realty Co. and Oakwood Development Group — and invited them to submit more-detailed proposals.
The firms have until Nov. 18 to respond. None is based in New Orleans.
“Is there any thought to the idea that we need to extend the time period for the RFQ and RFP process because smaller firms, newer firms ... will need more time than larger firms, who do this all the time?” Williams asked Canal Street Development Corp. Executive Director Cynthia Connick.
Connick said the time frame for RFQ responses was extended during the process. She also said some of the developers do have minority participation. Oakwood, for example, is a minority, woman-owned real estate advisory firm, she said.
Councilman James Gray, who introduced the hiring ordinance on behalf of Landrieu, said he thought it applied to the Piazza d’Italia proposals. Starting in 2016, the ordinance will require businesses receiving city contracts to award local and disadvantaged local employees at least 30 percent and 10 percent, respectively, of all work hours on the contracts.
Connick, Sewerage & Water Board Executive Director Cedric Grant and Landrieu aide Eric Granderson said there is a difference between the city asking someone it is paying to hire local workers and asking someone who is leasing city property but paying for its redevelopment themselves to hire local workers.
“This is a thing that they are actually paying us. They are not receiving an actual financial benefit from the city of New Orleans,” Granderson said.
“This is city property,” Gray replied.
Grant said the city does ask all developers to make a good-faith effort to hire local and disadvantaged workers and generally looks favorably upon those who do. It’s just not a firm mandate, he said.
Williams and Gray also quizzed the Canal Street Development Corp. on its policy for giving legal and other work to disadvantaged business enterprises.
Connick said a big challenge is the fact that many lawyers associated with such firms are not well-versed in real estate. Also, she said, the agency doesn’t do a lot of “one-off projects” or smaller projects on which it is easier to get such participation.
Nevertheless, she said, the agency is trying to do better.
The Canal Street Development Corp. will generate and spend $16 million in 2016, down slightly from the $16.4 million it generated this year. About $13.4 million of the total is a lease payment from Harrah’s New Orleans Casino, which the agency passes on to the city’s general fund.
Also discussed Tuesday was the Mosquito, Termite and Rodent Control Board’s $3.5 million budget. The Landrieu administration did not approve $561,000 in additional operating funding or a $391,000 capital budget requested by the agency. The operating money would have paid for extra staff, termite treatment of public buildings and landing gear for the board’s mosquito-control airplane, among other items.
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.