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rivergate and the gambling blitz
28 october 1993 - 3 december 1995
by abbye a. gorin
28 October 1993
Johnson, Phil, editorial writer
Television news broadcast, editorial, WWL-TV 4.
What's the big rush to destroy the Rivergate? It's almost like certain political friends have already been given the contract to tear it down. The foolish demolition of the Rivergate to build a foolish looking casino, a building laughable in its pretensions and sad in its projection. What a scar to inflict on our city.
20 November 1993
"Gambling-as-salvation (1), Le Grand Palais," Economist, 27.
Both Gov. Edwin "Fast Eddie" Edwards who admits that he will bet $5,000 on the roll of dice, and Mayor Sidney Barthelemy who is convinced that a casino would bring revenue and jobs, have worked hard to get a casino in New Orleans, but it has not happened yet. The Grand Palais is meant to open in January 1995 and Edwards will be running for a fifth term as governor. In the meantime, in nearby Gulfport, Mississippi casinos are draining off gambling customers.
28 February 1994
"Down in the Big Queasy, The treasury is strapped, business is stalled, crime is up. New Orleans' bon temps have rolled away," Time, 43.
New Orleans city government is faced with a murder count in 1993 of 389 (36% jump over 1992), a $40 million short-fall next year, cuts in social services, ten percent of the population living in ten housing projects, and a largely white exodus to the suburbs. Gambling boosters, foremost among them Edwin Edwards, see salvation in plans to build the world's largest casino in downtown New Orleans.
Medley, Keith Weldon; Neil Alexander, photography
"Big gamble in the big easy," Historic Preservation, 27-31,92-94.
A city defined by its unusual architectural mélange is confronting a menace that could destroy its essence in the name of economic gain. Supporters of the casino project argue that it will pull the city, one of the nation's poorest, out of its financial doldrums. Many residents see this deal as Faustian. For three years in a row -- 1988-1990 -- the National Trust included the Vieux Carré on its list of America's Eleven Endangered Historic Places. The Trust's 1993 list included the entire downtown and said...The flashy new casino could be a disaster for one of the world's unique cities. Lawsuits amount to judicial speed bumps in the state's rush to embrace gambling. The size and scope of the casino project and the money and influence it brings to bear have placed it on a collision course with the city's preservation instincts.
1-7 August 1994
Gorin, Abbye A.
"Mayor Marc Morial's first 100 days: a mistakes list related to the Rivergate," New Orleans CityBusiness, Guest Perspective, 5, 10.
Mayor Morial, who campaigned on the winds-of-change, has glossed over the advantages of adaptive reuse of the Rivergate for politics. The gambling jobs jackpot is true for some politicians, the politically connected lawyers, accountants, architects, and other good old boys and girls. The demonstration at the 7 July 1994 City Council meeting by a few adults with 200 children represented the segment of New Orleans society cut out of the system.
29 August 1994
Moss, Betty L.
"Why must the Rivergate be demolished? Is the answer unspeakable?" New Orleans CityBusiness, Guest Perspective, 5, 7.
Stony silence comes from Mayors Barthelemy and Morial and the majority of the City Councils on the reckless handling of prime civic assets: the Rivergate, Parc de France, and Squares 4 and 5 at Poydras Street and Convention Center Boulevard. The political games played by those in command have manipulated the lives of hundreds of New Orleanians who were led to believe that the casino would open hundreds of new jobs. The lease contract stipulates that the big casino will have to gross about $730 million annually for the city to receive the needed $29.6 million to defray annual casino-related expenses plus $5 million annual rent to the city.
Barron, Errol, partner in firm of Errol Barron/Michael Toups Architects and professor at Tulane [School of Architecture]
"Trouble in river city, As gambling becomes the solution-of-the-month for fiscally strapped states and localities, some casinos threaten to behave like urban-design bullies," Architectural Record, 22.
Backed by large corporations skilled at lobbying and power politics, casinos are a new force on the urban landscape. Historic New Orleans is providing a textbook example of the threats of casino gambling to urban areas and the inability of regulating bodies to react in an organized way. The developer Hemmeter's proposal was selected without any public body scrutinizing the deal. Gov. Edwards, through a hand-picked Board of Commissioners, selected a group of local cronies to be the licensed operator. The structure to replace the Rivergate is as compromised as the Rivergate is idealistic.
24 April 1995
Powers, Mary B.
"Politics claims historic hall," Engineering News Record, 18-19.
The Rivergate was a victim of politics. The city's casino permit was predicated on demolishing the Rivergate. Demolishing the building was as much of an engineering feat as the structural system was to design in the 1960s. D.H. Griffin of Greensboro, N.C. was the firm that took the Rivergate down under a $4 million contract.
11 September 1995
"Gambling is proving to be a poor wager for State of Louisiana. Business is disappointing and an FBI graft probe roils a jaded electorate. Bets, lies and videotape." Wall Street Journal, A-1.
Gambling is being blamed by many for sucking profits from mom-and-pop commercial enterprises that are critical to many small Louisiana towns; the industry has been embroiled in nonstop scandal, most of it involving political cronyism. The FBI's focus on video-poker parlors, the riverboats, and land-based casino in New Orleans is shaking up Louisiana's political landscape and raising questions about the connection between gambling and public officials. The land-based casino in New Orleans was projected to create 50,000 jobs; now it looks like 10,000 at most. So far the best month has brought in less than half of projected revenues. The human cost of compulsive gambling is high.
16 October 1995
Forest, Stephanie Anderson
"Big trouble in the big easy, Developer Chris Hemmeter makes a bad bet on riverboat gambling in New Orleans," Business Week, 100,102.
Hemmeter launched his $223 million River City casino project last March. Nine weeks later in June, the project ran out of money, and creditors threw it into bankruptcy. Hemmeter's plan to build a mega land-based casino was lost to Harrah's. He settled for one-third interest. Still convinced he would hit the mother lode, he snagged a license in 1993 to operate a riverboat casino. He joined Capital Gaming International Incorporated to form a two-boat casino complex called River City which was probably doomed from the start because it was beyond walking distance from most of the city's hotels, in a seedy part of town, ballooned costs, cash crunch, and fierce competition in a saturated market.
3 December 1995
"A huge bet goes bust in the Big Easy," Miami Herald, Palm Beach edition, A-1.
It was supposed to be a shot in the arm. Instead, it was a shot in the foot, said Betty Moss, architect. Three weeks prior to Harrah's bankruptcy on 22 November 1995, the national gambling corporation took out a two-page ad in the Times-Picayune assuring New Orleans it was "here to stay." The half-built casino will cost up to $15 million more to be sealed off from bad weather. New Orleans has spent $4.5 million on police, fire, and other services at Harrah's temporary casino which were supposed to be reimbursed by the State, but Mayor Marc Morial never thought to get the terms of the reimbursement in writing. New Orleans had budgeted millions of projected revenue from the casino; now as many as 600 city employees may lose their jobs. Harrah's junk bonds are trading at 22 cents on the dollar. Centex Landis Construction Company, general contractor on the casino project, is owed about $35 million. The wheel of fortune grinds to a halt.
Miami Herald, Florida edition, A-1 published a similar article by Browning, "For a casino in Big Easy, there are no last hurrahs."