Government & Politics

If at first you don't succeed … Developer vows to re-bid Auditorium makeover plan

By Ariella Cohen, The Lens staff writer |

The political ally of former Mayor Ray Nagin whose plan to turn the Municipal Auditorium into a media production facility was slammed as a boondoggle, hasn’t given up on the project.

On Saturday night developer Stewart Juneau will host a fundraiser to benefit restoration of the Armstrong Park, where the auditorium stands.

“We are certainly still interested (in redeveloping the auditorium),” said Ryan Juneau, the developer’s son, and the president of Le Triomphe Property Group, LLC, the family’s Baton Rouge-based real estate firm.

Juneau said that the company anticipates that the city will soon release a public bid for the redevelopment – and as soon as that happens, they will pitch their plan anew.

“We are just waiting for the mayor to release a public bid,” he said. “We can’t do anything until the city puts it out for that public bid.”

That’s a lesson Juneau learned the hard way. In March 2009, Le Triomphe suspended negotiations with the city after Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux raised concerns that the company’s redevelopment scheme was an insider deal that would benefit allies of the mayor, including his personal photographer Bernardo Wade. The company was the sole bidder to respond to a request for proposals to partner with the city on a redevelopment.

Quatrevaux called the arrangement an “abject waste” and “a contract for nothing” in a letter he sent to then-Mayor Ray Nagin and the city Council after spotting a draft version signed by Stewart Juneau, but not the mayor on the city’s now-defunct electronic contract routing system. The letter predicted that FEMA would not foot the project’s entire bill, leaving the city on the hook for a significant portion of its $80 million tab. The Landrieu administration promptly abandoned the plan upon taking office.

Ryan Juneau said that while it was too early to know exact details of the company’s plan, it would be similar in concept and cost to the Nagin-era plan for state-of-the-art production studios for music and other media.  He said the company planned to consult with the Treme community to “hear everyone’s ideas and find out what people want to see happen” before working out specifics. “But,” Juneau said, “we’re thinking along the same basic lines as last time.”

The draft agreement that drew Quatrevaux’s ire specified hourly billing rates for the Juneau-led team ranging from $75 an hour for clerical work to $280 an hour for the project executive, a figure that could have put $4 million in the project executive’s pocket before reaching a cap of  5 percent of the project’s total cost. Nagin’s photographer would have pocketed 35 percent of profits from the $80 million production facility.

Le Triomphe has not decided on individuals or companies it would partner with on a second proposal, Juneau said. When asked if he planned to work with Wade this time around, Juneau chuckled. “I haven’t spoken to Bernardo for a long time, so I really can’t speak to that. I don’t know,” Juneau said.

The Juneaus are optimistic that this time the process will go more smoothly.  In a personalized email invitation to the “Save Louis Armstrong Park!,” Stewart Juneau writes that he believes the city  is “close”  to a second public bidding process.

“Further,” Juneau continues, “we believe all of the misunderstanding and concerns surrounding the previous process have been addressed and should be a much easier endeavor this time around.”

Saturday’s benefit will be held in the same Ritz Carlton penthouse where, in 2008, Stewart Juneau, the Ritz Carlton’s owner, held an “Excellence in Recovery Award” gala honoring Nagin. Last May, in the weeks immediately following Nagin’s departure from City Hall, Juneau offered up the penthouse for a wedding reception for the former mayor’s top aides, Kenya Smith and Ceeon Quiett.

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