Kenner — Kenner officials have finalized plans for the opening of a new Office of Motor Vehicle’s branch in the city’s Rivertown, and politicians are hoping the move will be just the boost Rivertown needs.
The Kenner City Council agreed to a cooperative endeavor agreement that will allow the state to use city property at 421 Williams Boulevard for a new driver’s license bureau. It is a 10-year agreement, with the option for two additional 10-year renewals. The state is closing its location on Airline Drive in Metairie and opening new locations in New Orleans and Kenner.
The new bureau will be located in the city’s former Mardi Gras Museum, which has been vacant since the city closed it as part of cost-cutting measures, said Mayor Mike Yenni. The city will provide the space for free but will pay for maintenance, utilities and other costs through a $3 fee that will be added to all transactions. A similar fee is tacked on to services in places such as Westwego.
Yenni said he offered the space to the state after learning of the closing of the Metairie office when trying to get a new license. Rivertown needs consistent foot traffic to prosper, and the Airline Drive office gets about 1,200 to 1,500 visitors per day. If the Kenner location can get a third of those visitors, it would be a boost for Rivertown’s restaurants and shops.
“Hopefully we’ll get four to 500 people in Rivertown who wouldn’t typically be in Rivertown,” Yenni said.
In addition, while the funds generated from the $3 fee are limited in how they can be used, they can help pay for the general upkeep and improvement of Rivertown, Yenni said. The city is already making roughly $400,000 in landscaping and streetscape repairs in the area as part of another grant. Any surplus revenue from the fee would be turned over to the state, but city officials said they don’t see that being an issue.
“This is much-needed revenue so we can do some much-needed repairs,” Yenni said. “There will be a lot happening in that area.”
Councilman Gregory Carroll, whose district includes Rivertown, said there has been some minor angst about the increased traffic in Rivertown and the surcharge, but ultimately the response to the news has been positive. Carroll said the city can’t be afraid to try new things as it attempts to increase the viability of Rivertown, and the new driver’s license bureau is part of those efforts. In addition, the fee is for the convenience of coming to Kenner, and anyone who doesn’t want to pay the fee can go to the new location in New Orleans.
“We cannot think something bad is going to happen and stray away from it,” said Carroll, adding that Kenner can end the arrangement at any time. “If you choose to go somewhere else that’s your option to do that.”
Councilwoman Jeannie Black noted that the city’s attempt to open an early voting site in Kenner was a success last month, and she expects the same from the driver’s license bureau. People are also searching for a way to avoid the long lines at the main offices, and several council members even admitted going to the driver’s license bureau in Boutte.
Councilman Joe Stagni said the facility sounds like a good idea, but city officials must be certain that the money generated from the fee is used for the right purpose.
“I want to make sure the money stays in that general vicinity,” Stagni said.
City Attorney Keith Conley said that won’t be an issue.
“The intent of this legislation as well as that agreement is to improve that area,” he said.