Arena is a good idea, but Mayo has poor arena track record

Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo wants to build a new civic arena for the community. We think that is a great idea, but the question is can the city afford to construct it, and do we have the demographics to maintain it after it opens?

   The mayor says the answer to both questions is yes.

   The mayor is putting together funding bundles that he hopes will become a reality.  He hopes to sell FEMA on the fact that it will be used as an emergency site and get them to pitch in a few million. He also hopes to bundle in some economic development money from the state. He has promises, but the state is struggling to stay above water itself. He hopes to sell a big company like Century Link to pay millions to have their name on the new arena.

    All of those together won’t produce the $100 million needed to pay for the project. The only other way to get the funds necessary is to sell the idea to the public and float a sales tax referendum. The mayor says there will be no request for new taxes, instead, the present resources will be restructured.

    “Restructured” is a fancy way of saying we will rob Peter to pay Paul. To restructure means to shift any undedicated revenues the city may have into a bundle big enough to help the project. If the source is funded by a present tax that is not already encumbered, then a portion of those revenues can be used to sell bonds.

     If for example, the city raises its water and sewer rates by 75 percent it will generate another 4 million dollars a year. If $2 million of the $4 million was bonded over 20 years, it could produce another $40 million. That would leave $2 million a year for water and sewer improvements.

    The mayor says he won’t increase taxes, but increasing water rates and sewer fees is even worse than a penny sales tax. The poor people of Monroe will be the hardest hit by this plan.
    If the mayor can get the city council to pile the bogus water rate increase on the public he may come close to the $75 million mark if the “Lord says the same and the creek don’t rise,” but even then it will fall short.

    The city has shown that it is a very poor manager of civic complexes. It does not have a uniform fee schedule that it follows. The facilities are often donated to political friends for little or nothing while others pay. Some pay thousands of dollars, and others pay as little as $35 for the same venue. Politics messes with the profits every time.

    The city tried once to hire a management company, but that only works if the city gets out of the business altogether and turns it over completely to the management company. The City didn’t do that. The company’s manager was constantly answering to whoever was mayor at the time, the giveaways persisted and each year the city posted losses. Finally, the management company left.

    It is possible to turn a profit with the city managing the complex, but the people at the top would have to be super business persons with a lot of savvy.

    When the Civic Center was originally built the mayor was W.L. “Jack” Howard, the millionaire owner of Howard Brothers. He was a promoter extraordinaire. He kept the civic center booked with big-name acts from Elvis Pressley to James Brown. Month after month he kept the Civic Center packed.

     At the same time, he promoted the zoo as if it was six flags. There was a train ride, a water park, and a set of beautiful flower gardens that attracted people for hundreds of miles.
     Today, there is very little promotion of the zoo. Weeds cover the train tracks. There is no water park, and the gardens are no longer a tourist attraction.

     Combined with Garland Shell’s Advertising Agency the Howard Administration bought advertising as far away as Baton Rouge and generated increased local tourism. Often Howard and local businesses put up their own money to promote the city’s tourism.

     Mayo is not a salesman; he’s a politician. When he gets people to give money, it’s for his re-election. Promoting shows and packing civic centers is not his cup of tea.

     If the city builds a $100 million Civic Center, the nightmarish reality is that Mayo’s 16-year track record with the civic center and zoo may repeat itself.

     If the proposed arena will be better managed, then Mayo should show how that can be done by turning over the present complex to a management company and see what happens.

     It might turn out that without the Mayor using it for politics that the present facility can turn a profit and we can save $100 million.