Kenner mayor unveils plans to beautify, improve major corridors

Kenner Mayor Michael Yenni has finally unveiled the details of his aggressive $29 million plan to reshape Kenner’s future, and now he’s turned his attention to wooing support from the Kenner City Council.

Yenni held a news conference Thursday to reveal details of 10 beautification and infrastructure improvement projects he’d like to see the city complete over the next decade. Yenni says the projects will reverse the city’s population decline by improving Kenner’s appearance and quality of life. He hopes that will draw younger people to the city.

“What is it Kenner needs?” Yenni asked. “What is it we can do to attract (young professionals) to Kenner?”

The projects, which include streetscaping, burying power lines, landscaping, bicycle trails and new walkways, are an outgrowth of Yenni’s reinvigorated 50-member economic development committee. Yenni put together that group shortly after he took office to help him brainstorm the best ways to position the city. He recently released his “Kenner 2030” plan and is staging meetings with residents to discuss the document.

Kenner is already spending $60 million to rehabilitate its aging and poorly performing sewer infrastructure through a state loan. However, Yenni says changes must be made that catch residents’ eyes, and he wants the council to allow him to refinance existing sales tax bonds to get the cash needed for the projects.

“This is the perfect time to do this,” Yenni said.

Yenni would like to use city money to attract federal, state and parish dollars. He’s already met with council members and plans to formally present the bond refinancing proposal in late March. The mayor said as the city attracts more funding, it will consider projects in areas not included in the initial plan.

Under Yenni’s plan, Kenner would borrow about $43 million, and pay that back over the next 20 years. Roughly $14 million would go to pay off the balance on the existing bonds, and the rest would be dedicated to the new projects.

City Finance Director Duke McConnell said given the generally low interest rates, now is a good time to take on debt. In fact, the city’s annual debt payments would remain roughly the same despite the new cash because of the change in interest rates.

“We’re in an excellent position to really take advantage of these low interest rates,” McConnell said. “Now’s the time to do this.”

The projects are concentrated along Kenner’s major corridors like Loyola Drive and Williams Boulevard, and very little work is planned in South Kenner.

The first project would involving replacing dilapidated bridges over the Duncan Canal, which has a total project cost of around $11 million.

According to the plan, the city would spend more than 75 percent of the money on either Loyola Drive or Williams Boulevard. One of Yenni’s goals is to make a favorable impression on people as they enter and leave the city while adding amenities for residents

Council Chairwoman Jeannie Black, the city’s longest tenured politician, said that despite her aversion to debt, Yenni’s plan sounds like progress.

It should be easier to sell residents on the plan because it won’t involve new debt just extending additional debt, she said.

“After looking at this presentation, I realize that the key word in this presentation is progress,” Black said.

Henry Shane, a Kenner architect and real estate developer, said it’s been obvious for years that Kenner needed to take some drastic steps to reverse its decline. Yenni’s plan will reinvent the city and give it the ability to compete with surrounding communities.

“We’re going to work on changing this image of Kenner,” said Shane, who helped develop the plan on the economic development committee. “We’ve been looking at all areas of what we can do to make Kenner desirable again. … What we tried to do was come up with a plan to jumpstart Kenner.”