Government & Politics

$800,000 to Zulu raises many questions

Download the city’s request for proposals to spend the Urban Development Action Grant Loan Fund money.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin’s Lundi Gras announcement of an $800,000 grant to the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club to build a new clubhouse in an “almost” target recovery area has generated more questions than answers.

The Zulu organization has been moving forward with plans to build a large facility for some time.

In August 2006, the organization applied to the city’s Safety and Permits Department to demolish an Arts and Crafts bungalow adjacent to the still standing club. The application was denied based on jurisdiction, with city officials saying it had to go through the Historic District Landmarks Commission. By the time it went to that commission in August 2007, the building had already been demolished, apparently without any approval.

In August 2007, they applied for and later got a zoning change that allows a private club in a residential neighborhood.

Clearly Zulu has been long been wanting to amplify the club house and the fact that they were close to but not in a recovery zone as delineated in the RFP did not deter them from applying.

The application for the money says the fund is intended to broaden the city’s tax base. This raises questions as to what economic development comes from a private club operating as a tax-exempt non-profit, which does not pay property taxes.

The city released the request for proposals Thursday, but not the responses sent in by the four applicants. They did not explain why those were unavailable, and city offices are closed today.

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About Karen Gadbois

Karen Gadbois co-founded The Lens. She now covers New Orleans government issues and writes about land use. With television reporter Lee Zurik she exposed widespread misuse of city recovery funds and led to guilty pleas in federal court. Her work attracted some of journalism's highest honors, including a Peabody Award, an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award and a gold medal from Investigative Reporters and Editors. She can be reached at (504) 606-6013.

  • Burma Jones

    To be fair, the RFP lists “location in one of City designated 18 Target Recovery Zones” as worth only 10% of the overall selection criteria. In fact, a look at the diluted selection criteria shows that awarding the grant to Zulu was clearly possible within the RFP’s parameters.

    The real question here is why the RFP was drafted with the selection criteria weightings as are. For what is titularly a grant for economic development (according to the RFP itself, intended to creating employment opportunities and increasing the tax base citywide”) the weight for “investment/impact and number of jobs created” is only 10% of the overall selection criteria. When you’re crafting RFP’s like, this it’s easy to dole out grants to dubious projects.