Kenner mayor to discuss thoroughfare work at town hall meeting

After receiving mixed support from the Kenner City Council, Mayor Michael Yenni is taking his plan for an expensive overhaul of Kenner’s image directly to the people in a town hall meeting Wednesday night.

Yenni has labeled the meeting as an opportunity for residents to get a final look at the details of his plan for a $30 million overhaul of the city’s major thoroughfares to make them more aesthetically pleasing. Yenni is looking to refinance about $47 million in sales tax bonds to pay for the overhaul, and last week the City Council authorized him to discuss the deal with the Louisiana State Bond Commission.

But the meeting is more than just an informational session. It’s also a chance for Yenni to counter recent accusations from residents and some council members that the mayor is heaping a massive amount of debt on the backs of Kenner’s future residents without giving current residents enough time to vet the deal.

Yenni has characterized the redevelopment, which is part of his “Kenner 2030” master plan, as a way to move the city from “a rut to a renaissance” over the course of the next decade. The mayor developed the plan through his handpicked economic development committee and initially unveiled it in February. Yenni said he wants the public to see the plans again, so there can be no question about whether he’s doing anything in secret.

“I have promised transparency and will not be accused otherwise,” Yenni said.

Those accusations have come from some of Yenni’s most frequent critics but also from two council members who asked for more time to review Yenni’s plan earlier this month. Councilmen Joe Stagni and Gregory Carroll both asked the council to delay authorizing Yenni to present the refinancing plan to the bond commission for at least a month while they gathered more opinions from their constituents. Richard Brown, a member of Citizens for a Better Kenner, asked why there is such a push to get the projects completed immediately.

“It just seems like this is being fast-tracked,” Brown told the council.

Yenni’s administration has said the city needs to strike now so that it can take advantage of historically low interest rates with its refinancing. Under Yenni’s plan, Kenner will tack on an additional 20 years to its existing bonds to pay for the projects. However, Kenner already has borrowed about $60 million to make sewer improvements throughout the city, and some have questioned whether adding more debt strictly for aesthetic improvements is advisable.

“As a resident, I have a lot of questions,” said Connie Zimmerman, a local tea party member who addressed the council last week.

Under the plan, Yenni would like to remake two of the city’s main corridors on Loyola Drive and Williams Boulevard. Much of the work is planned for north Kenner, with few projects planned in Carroll’s district in south Kenner. The proposed projects include replacing aging bridges over the Duncan Canal, landscaping and streetscaping throughout the city and even adding public artwork to some medians. Based on the initial proposal from Yenni, about 75 percent of the bond revenue, or $23 million, would be spent on either Loyola Drive or Williams Boulevard.

The meeting will be held at the Kenner City Park Pavilion, 3800 Loyola Drive. Residents can view the plans starting at 7 p.m., and the meeting will begin at 7:30 p.m.