The New Orleans City Council on Thursday is set to consider an ordinance to prevent Mayor Ray Nagin from buying the Chevron Building and renovating it into a new City Hall.
Introduced Jan. 7, the ordinance is the latest move in a game of political Stratego that has visibly pitted the administration against members of the City Council who oppose spending city money on a new City Hall when many neighborhoods are struggling to recover. The vote was postponed from the last meeting as part of a decision to delay all decisions on major spending until tomorrow’s meeting, when the council also will consider a $600 million rollover spending ordinance regarding unspent money from 2009. Council member Shelley Midura authored the bill. It was co-authored by Arnie Fielkow, Stacy Head and Jackie Clarkson co-authored the ordinance. Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell initially supported the limitation of funding, but changed dropped her support after it became apparent how polarizing the issue was.
Midura also is expected to introduce an amendment to the rollover ordinance that would remove all City Hall appropriations) from the list of spending to be moved into the 2010 budget. Fears that the administration will use money earmarked for repairs to 1300 Perdido to buy the Chevron property motivated the councilwoman to extend the amendment to include all spending related to City Hall.
Nagin first broached the idea of purchasing the empty Gravier Street office tower in his 2009 state of the city address. He moved forward with the acquisition of the tower with little public fanfare and no formal input from the council. In June, Nagin announced that his administration had signed an agreement with Chevron Corp. to pay $8 million for the three tower complex that housed the company’s downtown headquarters until hurricane Katrina.
Initially, the purchase was structured in such a way that the council needed to give approval. A divided council rejected the move 4-3 in July, and members considered the deal dead.
But the Nagin administration recently put together a new deal to buy the building that would shift money already approved by the council, thereby avoiding the need to seek its approval. The Thursday ordinance seeks to put the kibosh on that.
After the storm, the company built a new regional headquarters building in St. Tammany Parish. When the company left its downtown building in 2008, amid one of the toughest commercial real estate markets in decades, observers said Chevron’s most likely hope for a buyer was the city or state.