Kenner — Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni has unveiled a strategic plan for his city that focuses on spurring economic growth through improvements at Louis Armstrong International Airport, redevelopment of Rivertown and Laketown and $30 million in aesthetic improvements throughout the city.
Dubbed “Kenner 2030,” Yenni’s plan is the result of years of discussions with his handpicked economic development committee, and the mayor sees it as the blueprint for how the city will avoid the economic decline that typically plagues aging, suburban communities.
Although the city of 65,000 residents still enjoys superior economic indicators when compared with much of the New Orleans metropolitan area, officials have noticed a decline. Yenni’s administration is making $60 million in improvements to Kenner’s aging sewer infrastructure, and now wants to expand those efforts to changes that are more visible.
“Kenner is becoming a very old city,” Yenni said.
Yenni’s plan envisions the planned $1 billion overhaul of Louis Armstrong International Airport as the fulcrum for a reversal of the city’s fortunes.
In addition to renovations to the main structure, the New Orleans Aviation Board is hoping to sell 260 properties near the airport, which could enhance Kenner’s economy.
In the 1990s, the airport began purchasing property around the facility and has amassed roughly 100 acres. The city’s chief administrative officer, Mike Quigley, said if the New Orleans City Council gives a blanket approval to selling the property, it would shave months off the process of bringing the land back into commerce.
“This pretty much puts the sale of the property at the 1-yard line,” Quigley said.
However, Yenni acknowledged those changes are largely dependent on the actions of New Orleans and the airport’s managers, and are therefore outside of Kenner’s control.
What the city can control, he says, is the redevelopment of Rivertown and Laketown as mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly enclaves and the planned overhaul of Kenner’s zoning ordinances.
In addition, the city can revamp its main thoroughfares to make them more attractive and modern. Those changes address quality of life concerns raised as crucial during meetings with the business community, the mayor said. Yenni would like to transform Kenner from a bedroom community of New Orleans into a self-contained metropolis.
“You don’t really have to leave Kenner. The city has a lot to offer,” Yenni said. He and Quigley are pushing the motto of “Kenner: A Community of Choice” to drive home that point.
Like most ambitious projects, the success of Yenni’s plan depends on how the city manages its cost. The mayor acknowledged city residents are adamantly opposed to new taxes, and in fact they recently voted down simple renewals of some existing taxes.
Due to the depressed national economy, there are fewer grants available, and the city’s sales tax revenue has been flat for some time. Yenni said he’s managed the city conservatively during his two years in office, pointing to the elimination of 130 positions as proof.
“This is a very conservatively run city,” Yenni said. “It’s very tough economy that we’re facing.”
Executing the plan will cost money, however. Yenni is proposing the city refinance some of its existing debt and use about $30 million on aesthetic improvements. That would include beautification work along major roadways such as Williams Boulevard, Airline Highway and Veterans Boulevard.
The Kenner City Council would have to approve that refinancing, and Quigley acknowledged that is not a sure thing.
“The council has to review the plan. They may want to spend the money on infrastructure; they may want to spend it on something else. They may want to do nothing,” he said.
The president of the Kenner Professional Business Association, Todd Acomb, said given the fact that Yenni’s plan won’t increase taxes, and will borrow money at a favorable interest rate, it’s crucial for the city to move forward. Acomb’s group represents about 70 businesses in Kenner, and he said business owners care about aesthetics because that’s how a community makes its first impression on visitors.
“The picture of Kenner needs to be one that says ‘This is a community that we all care about,’ ” said Acomb, who praised Yenni for involving the business community in the plan’s development. “It is time that we put our foot down and invest in our community.”
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