Mayor Mitch Landrieu on Monday unveiled the list of local groups receiving Edward Wisner grants this year, apparently signaling the status quo remains in place for the contested piece of coastal real estate that has produced the revenue for Wisner grants going back decades.
More than 60 organizations, ranging from the Louisiana Children’s Museum to St. Augustine High School, will share about $1.2 million this year.
Against the backdrop of mostly discouraging crime statistics, the mayor said his administration is directing grants to groups and institutions that help push back against what he termed the city’s “culture of violence.”
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Landrieu said. “We will be working in the next couple of years to make sure that we focus all of our time and attention on a very simple thing: turning a culture of violence, a culture of disunity, a culture of mistrust that has permeated us for a long time and replacing it with unity and peace.”
Landrieu’s decision to hand out Wisner grants according to the typical process this year suggested little has changed about the practical status of the so-called Wisner Donation, a chunk of Louisiana coast that produces income mainly through oil and land leases.
The descendants of Edward Wisner, a local philanthropist who donated the land to the city in 1914, have been fighting the mayor in court for the past two years, arguing that Landrieu must consult a special committee about who gets the grants.
The mayor has argued — successfully, for the most part — that those decisions are his and that the original terms of the trust set up to hold the land dissolved last year anyway.
The Louisiana 4th Circuit Court of Appeal decided in September that the trust has indeed expired after a 100-year term. But the committee set up to manage the donation continues to meet and conduct regular business while Wisner’s heirs wait to see if the state Supreme Court will take up their case.
The heirs, along with the Salvation Army and LSU — two other beneficiaries of the donation — want the trust declared perpetual in order to preserve the existing arrangements.
Some of the heirs have said they worry Landrieu will simply sell off the land, part of which holds Port Fourchon, a hub for vessels serving offshore rigs.
The proceeds of such a sale would presumably be split among all of the beneficiaries that get a cut of the land’s proceeds today, including the city, Tulane University, the Salvation Army, LSU and a collection of some 50 different individuals. But the land would be gone as a regular source of income.
The mayor so far has not made any moves in that direction, although he said Monday that his administration is in the middle of evaluating how much the land is really worth.
He compared it to the Public Belt Railway, another city property that Landrieu has said he would be willing to at least consider selling. “I’m going to make sure that asset is valued correctly,” he said.