Months before an ally of Mayor Mitch Landrieu would lose a profitable lease on a city-owned property in the French Quarter, she inked an even bigger deal to manage events for the city of New Orleans.
The city will pay Dottie Belletto’s company, New Orleans Convention Company Inc., nearly $250,000 a year to handle major events. Even before the contract was signed, her company already had handled the first two: one at Jazz Fest and Landrieu’s inauguration.
As the People Say Project noted in October 2013, Belletto is close to the mayor, frequently handling events for the city and his campaigns. Landrieu also appointed her to the board that oversees the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.
Belletto’s company was the only one to respond to the city’s request for proposals for event management.
The city normally is required to get at least three responses in such cases, but it made an exception this time due to the short timeframe, according to Landrieu spokesman Tyler Gamble.
Asked if the deal is a political favor, Gamble responded, “No. The contract was awarded through a public bid and selection process as laid out in the City’s contracting process.” And, he said, the company “has a proven track record of managing world-class events.”
The Lens was unable to reach Belletto to comment on the deal.
Belletto is executive director of New Orleans Musical Legends Inc., a nonprofit organization that runs Edison Park in the 300 block of Bourbon Street. The group commissions and maintains monuments and statues to famous New Orleans musicians there.
New Orleans Musical Legends leases the park from the French Market Corporation, which manages publicly owned properties in the French Quarter, for just $1 a year. Since 2004, the nonprofit has subleased the park to Cafe Beignet, recently earning more than $100,000 per year from the sublease, the group’s main source of income.
The Inspector General criticized the arrangement in 2013, saying it was hard to see why the French Market Corporation needs a middleman to manage a lease with Cafe Beignet when it’s in the property management business.
In February, the French Market Corporation board voted to lease the park directly to the restaurant. However, the board and its executive director Jon Smith wanted New Orleans Musical Legends to continue to maintain the statues — a service that the French Market Corporation was willing to pay about $105,000 for.
In March, the board changed course and reinstated the lease to New Orleans Musical Legends on a month-to-month basis while it continued negotiations.
The French Market Corporation has to renew the lease each month, and it’s set to end in August. On Friday, its real estate committee recommended extending it for July.
Meanwhile, New Orleans Convention Company began work on a yearlong event consultation and management contract for the city.
Under its terms, the company will provide planning and logistics for four major events beginning in April. The contract is valued at $247,350.
The company’s previous event coordination contracts were worth far less — mostly $10,000 to $15,000.
Belletto’s company is also the largest contractor for her nonprofit. It’s paid about $36,000 annually to manage events at Edison Park, The New Orleans Advocate reported last year.
According to Gamble, the city publicized its request for proposals on its website from March 18 to April 4 and advertised it three times in The Times-Picayune. After getting just one response — from Belletto’s company — the city decided to waive its requirement that it receive three offers to a request for proposals.
“Given that the inauguration and New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival were weeks away, the procurement office and City Attorney authorized the Mayor’s Office to proceed with one response because additional advertisement would have been ineffective insofar as it would have meant missing the events,” Gamble said.
The contract was entered into the city’s purchasing system on May 24 and signed by the mayor on June 11. But it was effective April 25, just in time to manage the city’s sponsorship area at Jazz Fest and Landrieu’s May 5 inauguration.
Gamble said a 1987 state attorney general’s opinion allows a government contract to be effective before it’s signed when there’s not enough time to review it beforehand.
At $108,450, the inauguration is the biggest piece of the deal. An invoice provided by the city shows that the company’s expenses came to $92,000, including a $10,000 fee.
Gamble said the city had budgeted $220,000 budget for the event.