Kenner picks new city marketer

Kenner officials have agreed to a new $150,000 contract with the Jefferson Parish Convention and Visitors Bureau to market the city after an audit earlier this year found widespread problems with the entity that previously handled the city’s marketing.

Mayor Mike Yenni informed his economic development committee of the new deal on Friday and called the contract a way to create a “professional” relationship with a seasoned group. The parish agency will provide the city with help determining the best way to utilize its Pontchartrain Center, Rivertown and Laketown, along with providing marketing services for those entities. There also will be a separate fund to provide incentives to events to attract them to the city.

“The agreement with the Jefferson Parish Convention and Visitors Bureau brings a new level of professionalism to Kenner,” Yenni told the committee.

Yenni said the parish group has a proven track record. They understand how to grow tourism, and Yenni has pushed tourism as a key component of his plan for the community. He said growing Kenner’s brand nationally is crucial to making it a true “community of choice.”

“They’re already an established group,” Yenni said. “Their whole point is putting heads in beds.”

Kenner is well-positioned to host meetings for state associations or governmental entities, said Violet Peters, the president and chief executive officer of the Jefferson Convention and Visitors Bureau. The goal is to get Kenner added to the meeting rotation, which means it could host events every three to five years. The bureau will have senior sales manager Chris Smits dedicated to Kenner, and he will be actively trying to fill the city’s 2,000 rooms.

“There’s definitely room to grow,” Peters said. “We want to be competitive.”

Yenni terminated the city’s contract with the Kenner Convention and Visitors Bureau in 2011 after that group came under fire from the city auditor and the Metropolitan Crime Commission for the alleged misuse of more than $200,000 in funds. The Louisiana legislative auditor then examined the group’s finances and found that the group paid board member Forrest “Bucky” Lanning and his daughter thousands of dollars often without time sheets or invoices. Lanning is a former Kenner City Council member. The bureau also gave employees pay advances and bonuses, the audit found.

However, officials with the Kenner bureau accused the Ed Muniz administration of using the group’s coffers as a slush fund to give projects to campaign contributors. The group received $50,000 annually from the city and another $200,000 annually from collections from the city’s hotel and motel taxes.

Yenni said the city learned from that experience, and that’s one of the reasons it chose the parish group. The Jefferson Convention and Visitor’s Bureau has regular meetings, and its operations can be followed closely, he said. Councilman Keith Reynaud said Kenner needed a clean break from the past.

“That’s the direction we need to go as a city,” Reynaud said. “They have so much more experience than the old group.”

Kenner officials have discussed marketing Rivertown, Laketown and the Pontchartrain Center as part of an overall push to make those areas less of a drain on the city’s budget. Kenner provides between $400,000 and $500,000 to the Pontchartrain Center annually and still provides subsidies to maintain Rivertown and Laketown.

Justice of the Peace Kevin Centanni, a committee member, said he’s excited that the convention and visitor’s bureau will study all three entities and provide the city with a plan for getting the most use out of them.

That could mean renovations or seeking out different types of events. Centanni said a similar study will happen at Rivertown and at Laketown, where the city is planning a new development.

“This has never been done,” Centanni said. “We don’t know what we need there.”

Chief Administrative Officer Mike Quigley noted that the new contract provides a mechanism for Kenner to provide incentives to event organizers to lure them to Kenner. That could include offering discounts on the rental fee for the Pontchartrain Center or free marketing. He hopes that will entice different sorts of events to come to the city.

“We want to bring tourism, we want to bring people to Kenner,” Quigley said. “How can we bring more and more people into Kenner?”

Yenni said he’s closing in on a deal to bring new management to the Pontchartrain Center and that should greatly reduce the city’s subsidy for that facility.

He would not provide specifics on that new contract, saying the details are not finalized, and it has not been presented to the council yet.

Under a new charter amendment, any contract worth more than $100,000 must now receive council review before it can be signed.

This story was altered on Dec. 20, 2012