By Ariella Cohen, The Lens staff writer
A New Orleans food cooperative building a grocery store on St. Claude Avenue is among the many projects statewide that stand to lose money as the state shifts funds to a North Carolina steelmaker’s new St. James Parish operation.
The grocery expected to get $375,000 to equip the store. Other New Orleans projects losing money to the Nucor Corp. complex include a $300,000 makeover of the tennis center in City Park, a road project in eastern New Orleans and an appropriation for the Children’s Museum.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration wants to steer a total of $30 million in state outlay funds to Nucor as part of a deal to lure the manufacturer to Louisiana.
Around the state, Jindal’s decision will kill renovations of museums, higher-education buildings and recreational centers. At Louisiana State University, Nucor’s gain will cost a $1.1 million renovation of old engineering shops into art studios and a $600,000 dormitory for the university’s Fire and Emergency Training Institute, according to the state Bond Commission. The commission must approve the shifting of the money, and it will consider the move Thursday.
The $375,000 construction outlay for the co-op approved over the summer was to pay for grocery equipment that would outfit the store, an anchor tenant in the old Universal Furniture building on the corner of St. Roch and St. Claude avenues in the Faubourg Marigny. The project, dubbed the New Orleans Healing Center by developer Pres Kabacoff, will also include an organic restaurant, a meditation space and a performing arts venue. There are no other grocery stores in the neighborhood, or for miles around it.
“This is a project the New Orleans legislative delegation really stood behind because it is so important to the health of the city, and that’s why we were able to get that money,” New Orleans Food Cooperative President Michael Smith said.
Even so, legislators overwhelmingly went along with Jindal’s financial transfers, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
Jindal spokesman Kyle Plotkin said in a prepared statement that the governor’s aides “are responding to questions from stakeholders and trying to help answer any questions they may have.”
The shifting of money has angered local officials in Baton Rouge who say that the governor should not be taking money from local public projects and giving them to an out-of-state corporation.
One of the projects that lost out to Nucor is a YMCA in north Baton Rouge, Smith said. A $400,000 capital outlay was supposed to buy the newly built recreation center equipment it needs before its planned opening in the coming months. Baton Rouge state Rep. Patricia Smith told The Advocate that the Jindal administration should have taken money from an economic development fund instead of yanking funds from community projects.
“We understand that Nucor came in at a late date, but some of these projects will probably never get funded now,” Rep. Smith said.
On St. Claude Avenue, Michael Smith is keeping hope alive that the state will find other money for his project.
“Its totally legitimate that they want to fund Nucor’s job creation, but our project is also going to create jobs,” Smith said, speaking in the dusty interior of the future grocery store. “Now what we have is a delay for downtown New Orleans and a win for St. James Parish. Hopefully the state will equal the score.”
Nucor has told the Jindal administration it plans to build a facility that could eventually grow a $3.4 billion steel and iron mega-project along the Mississippi River. If that happens, the project is projected to employ 1,250 people. The Bond Commission has already set aside $600 million in untaxed Gulf Opportunity Zone bonds for the project.