I read with interest a recent article in The Advocate in which a group that includes Joe Jaeger is asking for large subsidies to build a 1,200-room hotel next to the Morial Convention Center, for which the Bureau of Governmental Research estimates a total cost to taxpayers of $739 million.
It is ironic that a short time ago, Jaeger and his group questioned Harrah’s proposal to build a new hotel at its casino with its own money with no public subsidy and a firm commitment to pay high wages to hard-working local men and women.
Harrah’s agreed to use local skilled construction workers making over $30 per hour, which includes health coverage for themselves and their families, a defined benefit pension plan upon retirement, a training program open to all working in the construction industry, along with Harrah’s employing hundreds of full-time employees with wages ranging from semi-skilled, well above minimum wage, to highly skilled maintenance workers earning over $30 an hour, including full benefit coverage.
As reported, during testimony before a state Senate committee, Jaeger criticized Harrah’s hotel proposal for paying only $60 million for a 30-year land lease, but Jaeger’s group is asking to pay zero for a 40-year lease of the Convention Center’s land.
Jaeger opposed Harrah’s for being the only bidder in its deal, when in fact Jaeger is the only bidder in his deal. The lack of competition that results in Jaeger being the sole bidder at the Convention Center is all the more disturbing since the proposal conceals millions of dollars in developer fees from the public.
Third, the Jaeger group seeks to pay no property or hotel taxes for more than 40 years, when Harrah’s committed to paying 100 percent of all property, sales and hotel taxes.
Finally, he opposed Harrah’s project even though it was financed privately with no public subsidies, yet, he is investing no money in his deal and requiring massive public subsidies, all as reported by the BGR’s analysis.
The BGR’s findings kicked off a public dialogue about the projected merits of Jaeger’s deal, with New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell joining the chorus of criticism.
While asking for a $41 million up-front cash payment from the Convention Center, I suggest that since Jaeger’s position was to have the Legislature wait and see until a better deal was proposed for the casino lease, I see no reason why the Convention Board could not do the same instead of rushing to judgment.
Peter Babin III
retired business manager, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 406