Independent Investigative Journalism and Commentary from New Orleans, LA
I imagine this is what a lot of people hoped Fitzmas would be like.
Where the LIFT probe might be headed. . . The greedy crooks who run LIFT bought alot of politicians and bureaucrats, from Baton Rouge to City Hall in New Orleans. . . Feds should be interested in how lift got a sweetheart give away deal from the Nagin administration for a new studio facility on city owned land, financed by the taxpayers of the city of New Orleans: More:Film studio under fire http://www.neworleanscitybusiness.com/print.cfm?recid=15605Posted: Monday, May 22, 2006New Orleans CityBusiness The city calls it good economic development.Residents call it a shady land grab.Plans to build a $130-million movie studio on more than 9 acres on the edge of the Lafitte housing development in New Orleans have become a divisive issue. Residents say the city was supposed to turn the land into green space.The controversy stems in part from a 1999 city land-use plan that suggested the Lafitte Corridor should remain open space. The city says the site has been underused and is stagnant. Green space supporters say the corridor, in part owned by the city, provides an important inner-city link of neighborhoods from the French Quarter to Bayou St. John and City Park.This year, the Louisiana Institute of Film Technology won various approvals from the city. The City Council passed an ordinance April 20 to publicly auction the city-owned property. LIFT, with offices in Shreveport, Harahan and New Orleans, already bought other portions of the corridor from Norfolk Southern Railway.Notice disputedResidents say building a movie studio on potential green space is not the issue. Some back the idea and the 2,000 expected jobs. Residents are upset elected leaders did not inform them about the project before approving it. The Downtown Neighborhoods Improvement Association says it feels blindsided after learning of the project only after it came to the City Council.“No one in our organization knew anything about it. No one from the city has come to us with the thing,” said Keith Scarmuzza, a DNIA member who lives about eight blocks from the site. “You can’t sell off our public assets without telling us about it. Maybe it’s not illegal but it seems like it should be.”City officials say numerous public hearings were held while gaining various governmental approvals, and residents’ concerns surprise them. The City Planning Commission’s Planning Advisory Committee approved the land sale Dec. 14, the City Planning Commission held a public hearing Feb. 14 and the City Council took up the issue March 16 and April 20.“There wasn’t any opposition at the time,” said Yolanda Rodriguez, executive director of the City Planning Commission, of the Feb. 14 meeting.Residents say it was not enough of a heads-up.“You have to do more than just post a notice. Neighborhoods are working ... 18-hour days,” said Nathan Shroyer, a DNIA member who lives in Esplanade Ridge, more than six blocks from the project.The project is in the district of Councilman Jay Batt, who was vying for District A re-election Saturday. Election results were not known before the Thursday CityBusiness press deadline. Batt could not be reached for comment.MIT studyUrban planning students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who were studying uses for the Lafitte Corridor as a green space, were also surprised by the LIFT deal. MIT graduate student Sharlene Leurig said she and four fellow students received a $5,000 grant to study open space in post-Katrina New Orleans.“This is such an essential connector for the city at large,” Leurig said.Daniel Taylor, facility developer and executive architect for Film Factory LLC, the LIFT-owned company developing the studio, said the project was publicized.“The only thing people from the Planning Commission received was positive feedback from the public notices,” Taylor said.News of the movie studio went national after an Associated Press story ran March 16, he said.Taylor said developers would be happy to meet with residents to discuss the project. He said LIFT plans to build a $750,000 bike path along Lafitte Street as well as create some green space and improve lighting, signage and landscaping. The bike path, which will run from Claiborne Avenue to North Galvez Street, would “be in keeping with previous planning studies as well as the 1999 land use plan,” according to the City Planning Commission.LIFT plans to pay for improvements out of its own pocket, Taylor said. LIFT will also sponsor a youth karate club for the Lafitte housing development, he said. The first phase of the project will include four stages, two student stages and production offices and suites, according to project documents. Later phases will be developed as back lots of the studio.Addressing complaints about loss of green space, Taylor asked who else was going to provide the resources to buy the land from the railroad and develop the site.Auction optionTaylor said the next step is for the city to auction the land at a time to be determined. Developers would have until Dec. 31, 2010, to obtain a building permit.Malcolm Petal, CEO of LIFT, said Louisiana is the third-largest production state behind California and New York with roughly $550 million in production in 2005, thanks to Louisiana’s tax incentive program luring filmmakers to the state.The new studio, which will be roughly 300,000 square feet, will help Louisiana maintain its moviemaking momentum, Petal said.“If we have enough infrastructure and we own enough of the means of production ourselves, eventually we wouldn’t have to have the best tax credit program,” he said.LIFT, created in 2002, is Louisiana’s largest full-service film and television production studio. It has produced more than 30 feature films and television programs and spent more than $200 million on production.Petal said the Lafitte Corridor was identified in June as a potential site for the project.“It was the last largest parcel of undeveloped land close enough to the downtown hospitality infrastructure. We needed to be close to downtown New Orleans,” he said.Petal said it would be “technically impossible” and too costly to build the studio without the city property.•
Next?Watch out Ernest Collins, David White and Ray Nagin!
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