After doling out nearly $3 million in loans for an expansion of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club headquarters and an entertainment complex on St. Bernard Avenue, the city of New Orleans has about $9 million left in its Urban Development Action Grant fund for revitalization projects in low-income neighborhoods.
“We have $12 million total in the UDAG fund,” Economic Development Director Ernest Gethers told the council Tuesday. He said that included the $400,000 Zulu loan and a separate $2.5 million loan to Glenn and David Amedee to build Inspire, an ambitious retail and entertainment complex planned near the intersection of St. Bernard Avenue and North Claiborne Avenue in the Seventh Ward.
The Amedee brothers, successful businessmen who run two popular establishments close to the Inspire site on St. Bernard, are the first entrepreneurs in recent memory to receive more than $750,000 from the fund.
Last year, five businesses – Advanced Steel, Cansecos, Mrs.Wheats, CJC (Meme’s) and CM Designs — received loans from the fund, public records show. All five received $750,000 even though three requested more different amounts – and one asked for less.
In response to questions from District B Councilwoman Stacy Head about the difference in loan amounts between the two years, Gethers said that a $750,000 limit had been imposed by former recovery czar Ed Blakely.
“That $750,000 limit was placed by the good doctor,” he said. “Dr. Blakely limited the amount because we only had a certain amount of money available for lending at that time.”
Following Blakely’s departure last summer, Gethers moved money from other city budget areas back to the urban development fund, Gethers said.
“I believe I told the council that I would look for more funding for the UDAG fund because he had put other funds in other projects and that is what I did,” he said.
Gethers did not say where he found the money to bolster the economic development fund.
Council President Arnie Fielkow was absent for the votes. In the past, he has spoken passionately about the need to reform the process that governs city economic development programs. District C Councilman James Carter, who represents the district that includes the Inspire site and has been known to make appearances at the Amedees’ other club, The Perfect Fit, recused himself from the Zulu vote because he is a member of the prominent African American organization.
Councilwomen Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, Cynthia Willard-Lewis and Jackie Brechtel Clarkson voted for both loans. Head voted for the Zulu loan but against the money for the Amedee development, saying that while she thought it was a “wonderful project” being done by “valuable” community members, she could not shake concerns about a “horribly flawed process.”
“We should have stopped the entire program, instead of opening the door while knowing the process is likely flawed,” she said.
District A Councilwoman Shelley Midura also voted against the Amedee loan, citing concerns about the integrity of the process and the size of the loan.
“This is not a small amount of money and the application lacks basic information that any bank or responsible lender would need to see before loaning it out,” she said in an interview after the meeting. She was not on the dais for the vote on Zulu.