Our Views: Non-transparent Topgolf deal lands New Orleans Convention Center in PR sand trap

By Advocate Editorial

Source: The Advocate

April 30, 2019

The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, a major player in the New Orleans tourism industry, is sitting on some $200 million in tax money — funds generated for a center expansion that was scrapped after Hurricane Katrina.

Some critics, including New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, have argued that the state-run center is getting too much tax money while other urgent city needs go unmet.

Those concerns underscore the need for the center’s leadership to be transparent and accountable in its dealings. Instead, it’s apparently planning to let Topgolf build a driving range and entertainment complex on a part of the center’s property. That was all done without benefit of a request for proposals to ensure that the public is getting the best deal.

A proposed hotel near the center is poised to get some $330 million in direct subsidies and tax breaks, according to an estimate by the Bureau of Governmental Research, a nonprofit that studies local issues. The convention center disputes the BGR report and says the subsidies are worth only half that, but that’s still a lot of government aid for a hotel project in a city full of hotels.

Over the weekend, New Orleans businessman Joe Jaeger withdrew his involvement in developing the hotel after criticizing the convention center board for its handling of the Topgolf deal. Jaeger acknowledged that since he was involved in developing a similar golf and entertainment facility elsewhere in New Orleans, he’s a less-than-objective critic of how the board courted Topgolf.

But one doesn’t have to be in Jaeger’s shoes to be concerned about how convention center leaders are conducting their business. Little wonder that the hotel deal appears to be struggling, even though Jaeger says he still backs the concept.

If convention center officials want taxpayer support for their mission, they should operate openly. Instead, they opted for secrecy, vying to score a hole-in-one with Topgolf, and ending up in a public relations sand trap.

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