Nagin re-takes New Orleans
Basking in his runoff victory over the state’s lieutenant governor, C. Ray Nagin made his mayoral comeback official on Thursday. After repeating his oath of office during ceremonies at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, the mayor told a crowd of several hundred that it’s time to “get off your duffs” and get on with rebuilding New Orleans.
Speaking at first from prepared text, Nagin, 49, focused on the theme of unity among his office, the governor’s office and the newly elected City Council. He also vowed to work cooperatively with the federal government and any other entities that can help speed the city’s recovery. But as he veered into impromptu comments near the end of his speech, Nagin chided the audience to remember who has the real power to fix the city.
“This is not on President Bush. It’s not on Kathleen Blanco. It’s not on Ray Nagin. It’s on you,” he said.
New council promises unity
Unity was also the rallying cry as three re-elected and four newly elected members of the New Orleans City Council began their four-year terms on Thursday. After swearing-in ceremonies in a council chamber packed with family members and friends, the members made brief comments about their commitment and eagerness to put the city back on its feet.
During a short official council meeting that followed, Councilman at Large Oliver Thomas was named president and Councilman at Large Arnie Fielkow, vice president.
Returning as district council members were Cynthia Hedge Morrell, of District D, and Cynthia Willard Lewis, of District E. Sworn in for their first terms were: Shelly Midura, District A; Stacy Head, District B; and James Carter, District C.
UNO feels the pain
Higher education in New Orleans took another blow Friday when the Louisiana State University Board of Supervisors approved a plan to cut courses and departments at the University of New Orleans.
Responding to a projected $16.5 million deficit produced by the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, the university dropped its undergraduate major in economics, its undergraduate degree programs in linguistics and classical music, and its bachelor’s and master’s degrees in health promotion and human performance. Master’s programs in mathematics and communications arts also got the axe.
UNO eliminated the administrative offices of the College of Urban and Public Affairs and the Graduate School, but shifted the academic programs to other parts of the university.
The university suffered more than $100 million in storm-related damages.
Monster redevelopment proposed
A downtown redevelopment project that Mayor Ray Nagin termed “breathtaking” came to light last week as a group of businesspeople and elected officials announced plans for the first major construction project in the city since Hurricane Katrina.
Chicago-based Strategic Hotels & Resorts, which owns the Hyatt Regency New Orleans Hotel, spearheaded the planning and design of a $715 million project that would transform a 20-acre swath running from the defunct New Orleans Shopping Centre on Poydras Street, along Loyola Avenue to Tulane Avenue. The project would include a massive renovation of the hurricane-damaged Hyatt Regency; relocation of City Hall and civil courts to the Dominion Tower on Poydras and demolition of their former headquarters; demolition of the old Supreme Court building, the old state office building, New Orleans Centre and parts of the Hyatt; and creation of an elevated park above and crossing Poydras Street, anchored by the 25,000-square-foot multiuse National Jazz Center.
Laurence Geller, president and chief executive officer of Strategic Hotels, said he began pulling together the expertise to plan and design the project after deciding that his company could not abandon the $200 million investment it had made in the local Hyatt over the years. This project, he said, could revitalize the upper end of Poydras Street and encourage additional residential construction and redevelopment downtown. Planners estimate the project could produce 6,500 permanent jobs, and have a $6 billion local economic impact over the next 20 years.
Strategic Hotels has invested about $3 million in plans so far, and has lined up about $400 million in financing. Developers will have to work with public agencies and seek additional investors in the private and nonprofit sectors to explore tax credits and other incentives that can help finance the rest.
Road Home gets closer to home
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson approved Louisiana’s multibillion-dollar housing recovery plan last week, enabling the first round of federally financed grants to local homeowners for repairs, rebuilding or buyouts of homes blasted or flooded by Hurricane Katrina. The approval assures that Louisiana homeowners will get $4.6 billion from HUD’s Community Development Block Grant Program, which will fund the state’s Road Home recovery plan.
Still pending, however, is another $4.2 billion that would bring the Road Home program to full funding. While President Bush and hurricane recovery chief Donald Powell support the additional funding, Congress also must approve it. Gov. Kathleen Blanco, along with Jackson and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, urged Congress to make approving the $4.2 billion its first priority when it returns from the Memorial Day holiday break.