AP NEWS

Deal means millions for New Orleans infrastructure

May 6, 2019

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A long-sought agreement involving the state of Louisiana, the New Orleans tourism industry and Mayor LaToya Cantrell will provide tens of millions of dollars to the city in the coming years to address critical infrastructure needs — notably an aging drinking water, sewerage and drainage system with problems that have been laid bare by street flooding and boil-water advisories.

Part of the agreement depends on passage of legislation now before the state House. Approval of the whole package would mark a significant political achievement for Cantrell, who took office a year ago. She faced daunting odds as she pushed for the city to get a bigger share of hotel room taxes and other revenue generated by the city’s vital tourism industry — money that to a large extent is dedicated to state-owned facilities including the Superdome, its neighboring arena and a convention center.

Gov. John Bel Edwards and Cantrell announced the agreement in Monday morning news releases. Cantrell called it “a win, win, win across the board,” during a news conference at the state Capitol with Edwards and others.

The news came days after a water main break in uptown New Orleans and the resulting boil water notice punctuated the problems faced by the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board. Recurring boil water notices and serious flooding in 2017 exposed numerous problems with the agency that provides drinking water and runs the pumps that drain the low-lying city’s streets in heavy rains.

As outlined in Edwards’ statement, the money includes $28 million from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center; $22 million from unused funds from past disasters, including a loan fund for Hurricane Katrina; and $17.5 million in the restructuring of recovery loans owed by the city.

Recurring funding of $26 million a year involves legislation that has been approved by the House Ways and Means Committee and is awaiting House debate. That includes adding an additional 1% tax on hotel room rentals and a 6.75% tax on short-term housing rentals. Another piece of legislation worked out as part of the deal allows the Convention Center to guild a new hotel and parking garage.

The city also will benefit from the planned rededication of more than $5 million in money from an “occupancy privilege tax” that currently goes to two tourism agencies. Under plans outlined at the Baton Rouge news conference, some of the duties and staff of the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation would be absorbed into New Orleans & Co., eliminating some duplication of tourism promotion efforts.