After arguing for months that New Orleans’ powerful tourism and sports agencies should shift some of their tax revenues to help fund the city's aging and sometimes crumbling infrastructure, Mayor LaToya Cantrell is demanding $3.6 million in rent from the Superdome's governing body for its use of a city-owned portion of Champions Square.

The city and the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, also known as the Superdome Commission, have been trying for years to conclude a land-swap agreement that would include the 1400 block of LaSalle Street that runs between the Superdome and Champions Square.

Because of a disagreement over the land’s value, those talks have fizzled. So on Tuesday, Cantrell sent a letter to Superdome Commission Chairman Kyle France that said the city is owed $3.6 million in back rent, plus $488,000 in rent annually.

“Given that negotiations around a property swap have not progressed, and the (Louisiana) constitution requires fair market value for the property, it is time to move forward with the execution of the lease” for the state to use the portion of LaSalle, Cantrell wrote.

"I look forward to finalizing the lease soon," she added.

The mayor’s request for lease payments follows attempts by the Cantrell administration in recent months to push some of the state-controlled tourism and sports entities operating in New Orleans to give up a share of the millions of dollars they receive each year in hotel taxes.

Earlier this year, Cantrell proposed shifting some of those taxes toward the Sewerage & Water Board and its troubled drainage system.

For years, city officials have tried to pry away some of the millions of dollars in taxes that go to the Superdome Commission, the Ernest N. Morial Exhibition Hall Authority, the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp. and New Orleans and Co., the new name for the city's tourism and convention commission.

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New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Gayle Benson, center, President Dennis Lauscha and New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, pictured here on Aug. 7, 2018. 

But because the Superdome and Morial Convention Center commissions are state-controlled entities, city officials have been unable to move anything along. In November, Gov. John Bel Edwards said he was opposed to redirecting any of the hotel taxes, effectively killing the idea.

The dispute around the city's request for lease payments is focused not on whether the city should be compensated for the part of LaSalle Street included in Champions Square but on how much it should receive.

Cantrell's request is based on a 2015 appraisal that assessed the property's value at $3.3 million. An earlier appraisal by the city, in 2010, put the value of the property at $2.8 million.

But Superdome Commission officials hired their own appraiser, who came back with a much lower figure than the city's estimate.

In a statement Wednesday, the commission, also known as the LSED, said that it would be happy to pay a figure based on the lower number, noting that the state has also improved the property in recent years.

“While the LSED and the state have attempted to reach a satisfactory conclusion over the LaSalle Street right-of-way in the past several years, this is first notice received by the LSED from the current administration,” the Superdome Commission said in an email sent by Mark Waguespack, a marketing manager for Superdome operator SMG. “We appreciate the mayor’s willingness to reach a conclusion on LaSalle Street. However, we disagree with the city’s valuation of the property, and in turn, the proposed annual lease proposal.”

Although LaSalle Street forms a portion of Champions Square, it still exists as a street in a sense. There are bollards at either end that can be taken down, allowing vehicles to enter and exit.

That is the portion of the square the city owns, and Superdome Commission officials argue that the street had little value at the time it was taken over.

They say it was next to a blighted mall, since demolished, and was a place where fans sometimes had a final drink or two on their way into Saints games.

The commission has also pointed out that the street would be of little use to the city currently if the state were to offer to give it back. Instead, the state argues, the city and the state are enjoying sales tax revenue from the property’s redevelopment as an outdoor concert venue and a place for tailgaters to gather before games.


Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA​.