To the Editor:
As President of New Orleans' Neighborhood Council, I appreciate Gambit's recognition of our "watchdog efforts" in your recent commentary ("Rethinking Wal-Mart, Oct. 2).
However, your commentary also contains some glaring inaccuracies -- and critical omissions -- about this complex redevelopment project.
First, contrary to UNO economist/private consultant Tim Ryan's claim that "what this Wal-Mart will do is keep dollars in Orleans Parish," our city will actually lose millions in sales tax revenue under HRI's current proposal -- to the tune of an annual shortfall of more than $3 million dollars, for the next 15 to 20 years.
"But how could that happen?" asks any citizen who's crossed the parish line and left those sales tax dollars in Metairie. Well, it will -- if our City Council gives the Wal-Mart project an unprecedented, controversial tax break called a "TIF."
Say the words "pure sales tax incremental financing" to the same citizen, and chances are his or her eyes will glaze over. Maybe that's why HRI has been able to deftly sweep this multi-million dollar deal-breaker under the rug.
The TIF will siphon three and one-half cents of local sales tax from every single dollar spent at the proposed Uptown Wal-Mart Supercenter -- to pay off private investors who are bankrolling HRI's ambitious, for-profit project. Using Wal-Mart's own forecast of $75 million in annual sales, that three and one-half cents will add up to millions in lost revenue to New Orleans, millions that would ordinarily help fund essential city services like police, street repairs and public transportation for years to come.
Even worse, Wal-Mart itself expects to "cannibalize" close to $56 million of those annual sales from our existing local businesses. Those same businesses have always generated millions in sales taxes that are now even more critical to our city's shrinking coffers. But they won't any more, after ruthless discounter Wal-Mart invades the market -- and your tax dollars have been quietly "diverted" for private interests.
Perhaps what's most disturbing is that we would even consider giving all this away, to bring the very worst of suburban sprawl into one of the world's most historic cities.
Gambit's editorial statement that "Kabacoff's plan embraces the ideas of New Urbanism" is an affront to every architect and urban planner in America. The New Urbanism seeks to strengthen a city's neighborhoods by making them pedestrian-friendly, carefully blending residential with commercial use one a village-like, accessible scale. But this big box Wal-Mart will be driven by the automobile, with an estimated 10,000 cars a day clogging our fragile neighborhoods to get to two-lane Tchoupitoulas Street.
The project's enormous scale also flies directly in the New Urbanism's face. The retail store alone will be the size of five football fields -- so Wal-Mart can also include a grocery store, hair salon, eye care center, bank, cafe and photography studio all under one roof. Add a wasteland of asphalt to accommodate more than 800 cars and you have a project the size of the Superdome on the edge of the historic Lower Garden District -- one that can hardly be disguised with merely "a brick facade."
Will we sacrifice millions in tax dollars, the health of our local businesses, our quality of life and our city's very soul to line the out-of-town pockets of the world's richest retailer? Or will we demand more and spark visionary alternatives to develop this valuable piece of real estate -- alternatives that all New Orleanians deserve.
Val J. Dansereau
President, Neighborhood Council of New Orleans
To the Editor:
On behalf of all of us here at Delgado Community College, thank you for putting higher education at the center of your Sept. 14 commentary, "A Matter of Priorities." It is imperative that our community understands the complexities of this issue, and Gambit Weekly is a powerful and respected voice. We agree with you that a well-educated citizenry will lead to the state's necessary economic development. Delgado Community College continues to rise to the occasion as the largest provider of work force training in Louisiana, and we do it at only 62 percent of the state funding formula. Delgado is the lowest-funded community college in the state system and one of the most underfunded community colleges in America.
State general fund appropriations at $26 million leave Delgado underfunded by almost $16 million in comparison to peer colleges in the South. Despite these setbacks, Delgado ranks eighth in the nation out of 1,200 American community and technical colleges for the number of allied health and nursing degrees conferred, 82nd in total number of associate's degrees conferred, 20th in the number of degrees conferred to African Americans, 22nd in the number of early childhood education degrees conferred, and 41st in the number of computer information sciences degrees conferred.
Over the last six years, Delgado has received basically the same amount of state fund allocation for operational needs in spite of recurring costs, projected increases in operational costs and increases in mandated expenses. Our talented faculty and staff and our limited resources are stretched to the max. Clearly, this cannot continue if we are to keep up with the growing demands of educating our constituents. Your help in spreading the word is very much appreciated.
J. Terence Kelly
Chancellor, Delgado Community College