Council candidates question Fairgrounds’ obligation to surrounding neighbors (live video)
Whether the Fair Grounds Race Course is doing its share to help the surrounding community in Gentilly was the subject of several questions Tuesday night in a candidates’ forum for New Orleans City Council, and several candidates even suggested that some of its tax revenue should be reallocated to support the neighborhood.
The questions came during a candidates’ forum Tuesday night at Langston Hughes Elementary hosted by the Fairgrounds Triangle Neighborhood Association. First, moderator Julius Kimbrough asked District D candidates whether the Race Course was upholding the terms of its 2005 agreement with neighbors to allow slot machines. Those requirements, he said, included neighborhood safety patrols, landscaping and the input of a citizens’ committee.
District D Councilman Jared Brossett said the track itself is actually in District A, but he appoints one of the members to the Fairgrounds Citizens Committee. He is committed to ensuring its transparency, he said.
“I’ll continue to work with this council member, Councilmember Guidry, and hopefully in the next council to address any issues with the Fairgrounds,” Brossett said.
Joel Jackson, Brossett’s opponent, said he lives “about a stone’s throw” from the track, and he believes the entity should do more for the neighborhood.
“I think as the folks who operate and own the Fairgrounds come and ask for extended hours and other ways they want to further their revenue and development, we have to hold their feet to the fire,” Jackson said. “They’re not living up to their end of the bargain as far as I know.”
Morgan Clevenger of the Fairgrounds Triangle Neighborhood Association criticized the current agreement, saying that neighborhood safety patrols have “not been productive,” and questioned why so little of the tax revenue generated by the Fairgrounds is dedicated to the neighborhood.
“We have been the welcome committee for 40 years of JazzFest,” Clevenger said. “We are the front yard of the Fairgrounds, and side yard and the backyard and parking lot and the ‘pee palace.’ We want to know where that money goes.”
Dr. Joe Bouie, running for the open At-Large seat on the City Council being vacated by Stacy Head’s term limits, said he had recently researched how the $6 million in Fairgrounds payments to the state is allocated, and none of it goes to the Gentilly neighborhood. Instead, it goes to the Superdome, to City Park, even to Algiers, and it should be re-examined.
“It would be a huge effort, but I think it’s a necessary effort,” Bouie said. “An effort on the part of the council, mayor and the legislative delegation could make that happen.”
Candidate Kenneth Cutno, seeking the same seat, said he would also seek to increase the allocation to the neighborhood from the Fairgrounds.
“Maybe we need to create our own development district in this area, so the taxes can go directly to the community, and the community can have a say-so,” Cutno said.
Bouie replied that such an entity already exists, the Gentilly Development District. Its revenue stream is small, he said, so he has already tried to shift that Fairgrounds money into it.
“[That effort] was killed, so we’re still working on that,” Bouie said. “But that’s the kind of opportunity that is there.”
State Rep. Helena Moreno, a third candidate for the At-Large seat, was not present Tuesday night.
The candidates’ forum also included discussion of property taxes, flood protection, short-term rentals and public safety. To watch live video of the entire forum, see above.